Action from the President’s meeting
Too often, government meetings on agriculture result in Nato (no action, talk only). Below is a meeting scheduled with President Duterte where action took place. For rhetoric to become reality, it is imperative that meetings are recorded, agreements documented and recommendations followed up.
The Agri Fisheries Alliance (Afa) had requested that meeting to discuss critical and urgent agriculture issues, as meetings with different departments were not producing results. The Afa is composed of five coalitions representing farmers and fisherfolk, agribusiness, science and academe, rural women and multisectors.
The meeting involved departments necessary to achieve agriculture growth other than the Department of Agriculture. Among them were the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Finance-Bureau of Customs and the National Economic and Development Authority-Tariff Commission. Since Mr. Duterte could not attend the July 29 meeting, he appointed Agriculture Secretary William Dar to represent him.
In a follow-up letter to the President, Afa stated: “We will report to you the progress of the agreements made.” There will be a final report on Dec. 1, with monthly interim reports. The following are the action steps decided for each of the nine agreements reached during the meeting:
1. Import regulation. Recorded with the World Trade Organization (WTO) are 26 instances of import regulation from other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, but none from the Philippines. Afa will work with the DA and DTI on justified import regulation. The DA has taken the first step by banning poultry imports from Brazil for health reasons.
2. Tariff charges. Afa will work with the DA and the Tariff Commission on a petition for the restoration of tariff levels for items such as chicken parts. This should have been done more than a year ago, as this was the WTO agreement when the rice tariff law took effect.
3. Fish imports. The DA will investigate the entry of imported frozen fish in wet markets without refrigeration facilities. This is to ensure health standards are strictly followed, and that fisherfolk’s livelihood will not suffer.
4. Smuggling. There will be a joint DA-private sector team to address smuggling of rice, poultry and livestock. The DTI practice of having private sector technical experts accredited by the BOC to conduct inspection right at the BOC was approved for agriculture implementation.
5. Exports. Agreement was made for private sector involvement in trade agreements, export practices and bureaucratic requirements.
6. Rural women. The DA announced the creation of a desk for women in development. This would help ensure not only equal access to services for women compared to men, but also programs for women empowerment.
7. Coconut levy. Dar will meet top officials to hasten the coconut levy release, using private sector inputs to bolster his case.
8. DA budget. Dar will provide information for the private sector’s work with Congress on the DA 2021 budget. Today, there are cases of misallocation. Examples: only 1.9 percent of the total budget goes to agriculture, which contributes 33 percent to gross domestic product (GDP); only 3.6 percent of the DA budget goes to poultry and livestock, which contributes 30 percent to the agriculture GDP, and only P1.1 billion goes to coconut, compared to P27.6 billion for rice.
9. National information network. After 23 years. Dar has started the establishment of this network mandated by the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act. He has asked the private sector to help in its effective and swift implementation in the next three months, so that proper planning can take place.
With this meeting resulting in specific actions and identified point persons, accountability can be expected from both the government and private sector. Meetings following this model can then transform from Nato into TWA (talk with action).
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