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Gov’t to curb rice imports via non-tariff measures

/ 04:11 AM October 30, 2019

The proponent and author of the rice tariffication law wants to limit the country’s rice imports as the downtrend in palay prices continued.

The call was made by Sen. Cynthia Villar at the sidelines of the National Food Security Summit on Tuesday, adding that the move would help local farmers adjust to the new rice regime as the government helps the sector be more competitive.

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The average buying price of palay hit its lowest in eight years based on government monitoring and are expected to decline further as the harvest season begins.

Villar noted that the Philippines produces 93 percent of its rice requirement, while the rest —estimated at 1.1 million metric tons (MT)—are mostly imported from Thailand and Vietnam.

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“We will try to lessen importation and limit it to 1 million MT [annually] because that’s all we need. Let us help our farmers,” she said.

Villar added that this could be done if the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) would be more strict when it comes to issuing sanitary and phytosanitary permits (SPS), which are major requirements before traders are allowed to import the staple.

In response, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the agency would be releasing a set of guidelines next week compelling BPI to strictly impose food safety regulations. This includes updating the bureau’s lists of pests and diseases to look out for.

Latest data from the Bureau of Customs showed that about 1.9 million MT of rice had already entered the country since the enactment of the new rice law in March.

The number is expected to swell further to 2.4 million MT by yearend and this would be the highest on record for the country, according to the United States of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Services.

Last month, Dar also pushed for the imposition of safeguard measures, but these were rejected by the administration’s economic managers due to their “inflationary effects.”

Slapping safeguard duties on imported rice could have been the easiest way to curb the inflow of imported rice in the market, Villar said, but she said the move would leave an impression that the Philippines was “scared” of competition.

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“We have to prove that we can compete. If we are going to employ safeguard measures, they would think that we’ve already given up and that we are not capable. Let’s show them that we can [compete],” she added.

In lieu of the safeguard measures, the Department of Agriculture said it would distribute P5,000 in cash subsidies to 600,000 farmers with one hectare of land or less. This is on top of the loan programs it opened to rice farmers and interventions under the rice competitiveness enhancement program.

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