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Unpleasant shock for farmers

For our 2.5 million rice farmers, the Department of Agriculture’s  (DA) rejection of an additional rice tariff safeguard is  an unpleasant shock.

This is because only on Sept. 24, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the tariff increase would be done  through “the implementation of a general safeguard duty on imported goods, which is provided for in the Rice Tariffication Law.”

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So why the change?

On Aug. 13, the Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) submitted an official request for the DA to automatically impose an agricultural special safeguard within five days, as provided by law. This was because of the rice import surge: 2.3 million tons had been imported as of end of July, three times the 2018 volume for the same period.

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However, the DA did not move. They said they had to wait for another 90 days for a WTO review. A prominent senator  has contested this opinion.

The next step AA took was to ask for a general, not a special, safeguard. Since the import surge had already been proven, two more requirements had to be met.

The first was proving damage to the industry. Submitted was the 21-percent decrease in palay farm gate price from last year, as well as the average income of a farmer selling dry palay which dropped from P29,100 to P10,500 a hectare. For the 80 percent who sell wet palay as they have no access to drying facilities, hundreds of thousands are losing money.

The second requirement was to prove that this injury was caused by the import surge. Submitted was the link between the significantly increased low-priced imports and the farmer’s consequent decreased revenue.

The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) submitted more data. However,  the  DA started its  preliminary investigation only a month later on Sept. 11. By that time, imports had ballooned to 2.5 million tons, almost double our 1.3-million ton annual rice  supply gap. Dar has consistently wanted to help.

Unfortunately, on Oct. 10, the following DA notification of termination was published: “RA8800 provides that the department shall issue its decision, whether affirmative or negative, within 30 calendar days from the initiation of the preliminary investigation…The DA’s preliminary investigation is hereby terminated.”

Shocked, farmer leaders had asked for the basis of this negative decision. But so far, they have been denied.

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As background, submissions were given  to DA from two farmer organizations. They proposed a tariff increase, following Philippine law RA8800 and WTO. These positions were prepared by two  people with solid academic credentials.

One has a bachelor’s “summa cum laude” degree from Ateneo de Manila University. The other has a master’s “summa cum laude” grade average from Yale University, and a New York University doctorate ending at the top of his class.

These positions are from the FFF, which has an unblemished 66-year track record, and the five coalition Agri Fisheries Alliance (AFA): farmers and fisherfolk (Alyansa Agrikultura-AA), agribusiness (Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc-PCAFI), science and academe (Coalition for Agri Modernization in the Philippines-CAMP), rural women (Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Kababaihan sa Kanayunan-PKKK), and multisectors (Agri Fisheries 2025-AF 2025).

Because the FFF and the AFA are puzzled by the DA turnaround in the last few days, they hope to be allowed to see the basis used for the new DA position.

This is important because on Oct. 24, DA will present its findings to the Cabinet economic cluster secretaries. Before this crucial  meeting, these findings  should be made transparent. They should be discussed openly, even in congressional hearings and television debates. A better understanding may occur.  The initial unpleasant shock can then be subdued, with optimal decision-making using correct information finally taking its proper place.

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TAGS: Department of Agriculture’s (DA), rice farmers, rice tariff
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