DOF urges tariff-free rice imports to ease prices
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Finance (DOF) is singing in tune, at least partly, with advocates of market-oriented reforms and consumer welfare, by proposing a temporary reduction of import tariffs on rice.
This developed amid the imposition of price caps on the commodity, which critics have pointed out to run contrary to basic economic principles.
Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno told reporters that, even with the imposition of price controls, it is crucial that the government continue to adopt a comprehensive approach to help ensure that rice supply remains sufficient at reduced prices.
Diokno said that President Marcos might have been prompted to issue on Aug. 31 Executive Order No. 39 that imposed a price ceiling of P41 a kilo on regular-milled rice and P45 on well-milled rice, “because there are market players that are misbehaving, much more so nowadays than during previous administrations.”
The finance chief said such industry players were profiting through speculation, not only with rice but other agricultural commodities like onion previously, and now even tomatoes.
Zero to 10% proposal
Thus, “the DOF is proposing to reduce the 35-percent rice import tariff rates … temporarily to 0 percent or maximum of 10 percent, to arrest the surge in rice prices,” Diokno said.
He echoed a call made last week from the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF), which proposed a temporary lifting or at least a reduction of import levies as an alternative to price caps.
But unlike the FEF, Diokno along with the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) supports EO 39 as a way toward an immediate reduction of rice prices.
In a statement on Sept. 3, Neda also expressed “confiden(ce) that the imposition of a price ceiling is only a temporary measure.”
During a briefing with journalists on Friday, Diokno said the DOF also proposes for the government to encourage the timely importation of rice by the private sector, and to fully implement the Super Green Lane.
The Super Green Lane authorizes the use of Electronic Data Interchange that will allow for the advance processing and clearance of the shipments of the country’s topmost qualified importers.
Further, the DOF proposes that the government should work with tollway concessionaires and operators for the temporary exemption of trucks that cater to agricultural goods from the increase in toll fees.
“There is also a need to avoid a noncompetitive behavior in the rice industry by pursuing cases of hoarding, smuggling, and economic sabotage, when applicable, strictly monitoring the prices of imported rice in the logistics chain, and encouraging the public, including retailers, to report individuals violating price caps on rice,” the finance chief said.
“At the same time, we have to pursue programs to protect the vulnerable sector by safeguarding our farmers from the effect of price ceiling; provide targeted subsidies to small traders and retailers of rice; and provide support to low-income households to address the impact of the surge in rice prices,” he added.