Duterte’s economic team hails move to continue rice importation
Economic managers on Thursday welcomed the decision to proceed with the liberalized rice trade regime, which they said had reduced the retail prices of the Filipino staple food since it commenced.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) chief Ernesto M. Pernia told the Inquirer that a freer rice importation would sustain the inroads made in terms of poverty reduction.
For Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, who heads the economic team, the decision to continue the implementation of the rice tariffication law was “good.”
Asked why the President had wanted in the first place to stop rice importation during harvest season, Dominguez replied: “What I think the President meant is, number one: you have to look at the interest of the rice farmers; [and second] you have to look at the interest of the consumers. [For the] interest of the consumers, you want to make sure that the rice is safe and that the prices are reasonable.”
He said Mr. Duterte only expressed concern for both.
“There are problems on both sides, and we will address them within the law,” Dominguez added.
Dominguez reiterated that in the next two years, P6 billion in tariff collections exceeding the yearly P10-billion allocation for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) would be given away as cash grants to palay farmers whose livelihood were affected by the drop in rice prices.
To address what the DOF deemed was rice hoarding, Dominguez urged the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC)—the country’s antitrust body—to investigate. Farm gate prices of palay are falling faster than retail prices, raising fears of hoarding.
“The retail price of rice will follow the cost of the middleman. But now, it’s not happening—[farm gate prices were] not following the trend of the drop in the retail price,” Dominguez explained.
He said the PCC would have to probe the matter.
“But if you just look at the numbers, it looks like the raw material is dropping but the final material is not, so something must be going on. The trend should be the same; the rate of drop should be the same. If your raw material is dropping by 10 percent per year, the final product should more or less reflect that. But it seems it is not being reflected, so somebody must be intervening in the market,” according to Dominguez.
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