By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol will no longer support the tariff cut proposal on meat and poultry imports, but will only push for a 5 percent tariff on imported fish and fish products from the current 3-10 percent.
This, as the government desperately looks for ways how to arrest the rising inflation which recent ly went up to a fresh high of 5.7 percent in July, its highest level in five years.
It all started when House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo earlier urged President Rodrigo Duterte as well as the country’s economic managers to remove the taxes on fish and meat imports as to tame inflation to below 5 percent. Arroyo, an economist by profession, however, eventually backtracked.
Piñol said in an interview that the stakeholders of agriculture and fisheries sector supported the proposal to allow the importation of fish, especially during the closed season for fishing from November to March, to stabilize the price of fish in the market.
They also agreed about setting the import tariff to a fixed rate of 5 percent on fish and fish products through an executive order from the current 3 to 10 percent duty.
He also said that the sector will soon come up with a resolution seeking Duterte’s approval for a subsidy to fishermen who have been directly affected by higher tax on fuel.
The fisheries sector said in a statement pointed out that when the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN)Law was being deliberated in Congress, they already warned about the possible effect of higher fuel cost to the sector.
“In fact, fuel alone accounts 60 to 70 percent of our operational cost. We foresee then that this will cause dramatic impact in the cost of fish sold in the market,” the group told the government.
“Today, just more than a year from the passage of TRAIN Law, the public is reeling from the high prices of consumer goods. Thus, prices of galunggong, dalagang bukid and other fishery products have spiralled to unmitigated degree, thereby making it difficult for fish to be a cheaper food source of our fellows,” they added.
In a three-hour consultative meeting convened by the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF), the advisory body of the Department of Agriculture (DA), leaders of farmers and fishermen also asked the government to run after market speculators and hoarders of basic food items as they assured there is enough supply of pork, chicken and rice.
“The problem is not in the farm level but in the market where the speculators manipulate the prices and in the cold storages and warehouses where thousands of metric tons of meat and chicken are being kept in preparation for the Holidays where prices are expected to go up,” the stakeholders said in a joint statement given to Piñol.
During the meeting, leaders of farmers and fishermen’s groups pointed out that except for rice whose farm gate buying price improved recently, the farm gate prices of other commodities hardly moved.
Citing data provided by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the PCAF members said that farm gate prices of chicken and hogs increased by only 1 percent but in the market, the price of these items increased by over 5 percent.
“Don’t look at us. Check the market outlets. They are the ones making money,” Raul Montemayor, representative of the agriculture sector to the DA special bodies, said during the meeting.
On Friday, upon finding out that the rising prices of pork and poultry is not caused by the shortfall in supply but just a mere speculation, the DA also threatened to cancel all the existing, underutilized import licenses under the minimum access volume (MAV) of the World Trade Organization (WTO).