By Chino S. Leyco
The National Food Authority (NFA) Council approved yesterday the implementation of tariffs on imported rice starting March 3 this year on efforts to further slash rice prices and bring down living costs.
In a meeting presided by Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, the NFA Council also approved a motion instructing the NFA to submit a restructuring plan within 30 days, instead of its initial proposal of 180 days.
Dominguez presided over the meeting as endorsed by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, who chairs the NFA Council, but was unavailable during the meeting at the DOF headquarters in Manila.
“Our objective in liberalizing rice imports is to bring down the costs of the staple. Our price is 50 percent higher than the others, including Singapore, which does not produce rice. Will it take us 180 days to effect a reduction in the cost of living of our people?” stressed Dominguez during the meeting.
Dominguez also proposed during the meeting that the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) determine what funds can be freed up as a result of the restructuring of the NFA to ensure that farmers receive the support they need while the Rice Competiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) mandated under the rice tariffication law is still in the process of being set up.
The meeting was called to immediately discuss the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act (RA) 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Act, following its signing into law by President Duterte last Feb. 15.
Along with Dominguez, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez also proposed that the shift to a tariff regime as mandated under the law be done as soon as possible.
Lopez said the reorganization of the NFA can be done separately from the move to shift from quantitative restrictions (QRs) to tariffs, which could — and should — be implemented faster.
The Council also approved the transfer of the NFA functions to the Department of Agriculture (DA) as provided under the rice tariffication law, effective March 3.
On the transfer of the Food Development Center from the NFA to the DA, Dominguez said that it could also be done in a short time, rather than the initial NFA proposal of 60 days.
Also present at the meeting were Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas deputy governor Diwa Guinigundo, Agriculture Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan, Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua, National Treasurer Rosalia de Leon, Monetary Board member Bruce Tolentino, and representatives from the NFA, NEDA, Land Bank of the Philippines, DA, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Social Welfare and Development.