Businesses: Farmers’ plight ‘birth pains’ of promising rice tariffication law
Some foreign and local business groups want the government to continue implementing the rice tariffication law despite mounting calls to amend or repeal the months-old legislation.
Six business groups said in a joint statement on Thursday that reversing Republic Act 11203 would only put the farm sector in harm’s way.
The groups are American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Bankers Association of the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Foundation for Economic Freedom, Makati Business Club and Management Association of the Philippines.
The groups noted how the law had helped ease inflation in recent months, which they said was a relief to the many Filipinos who had to struggle with the spike in the prices of goods and services last year.
President Duterte signed the law in February, effectively lifting import restrictions. The unimpeded entry of the products has forced farmers, one of the poorest sectors in the country, to make do with cheaper buying prices.
Different stakeholders, including senators, have begun calling for amendments or a repeal altogether.
The business groups said they wanted the law properly implemented. They described the current problems of the rice sector as “birth pains.”
“We urge the proper implementation of the [law] to ensure that the temporary adjustment problems experienced by our rice sector will be mitigated. And we are sure that out from the birth pains, a new, vibrant and modern Philippine agriculture sector will emerge,” the groups said.
The calls against the law, they said, were “not surprising.”
“Nothing has changed our mind regarding the desirability of pursuing the [rice tariffication law] to the fullest to assist in modernizing the Philippine agricultural sector. To reverse it now will be tantamount to consigning our agriculture to underdevelopment and our farm families to continuing child malnutrition,” they said.
In an effort to temper the situation, however, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said there was a need to soften the impact of the law by possibly further taxing imports.
Dar had said the country already had “too much supply” of imported rice. He said the country only needed to import 1.5 million tons to 2 million tons, but had already imported 2.4 million tons since March.
“We will protect our small farmers by not allowing additional imports especially (during) this main harvest season,” Dar had said.
A representative, who sent the joint statement to the media, declined to give a categorical answer on whether or not the business groups supported the plan to impose a safeguard measure.
But Rizalina Mantaring, president of the Management Association of the Philippines, said the plan could be warranted. She said, however, this did not necessarily reflect the position of other business groups.
“We believe Secretary Dar is taking the right measures in addressing these issues. Since this is a transition period, the safeguard measures may be warranted as long as we take care to ensure that they are at a reasonable level and that they are indeed temporary,” she said.