By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The Rice Tariffication Law, if implemented this week, will result to local rice sector obtaining the biggest annual budget it will have in history starting next year.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the overall budget that will go to local rice farmers once the Rice Tariffication Law is in place could be around P38 billion. He called this such a “huge irony.”
The Rice Tariffication Law, which will replace the volume restriction on rice imports with tariff, was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in February and is slated to become effective today but only upon the issuance of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR).
The amount of imported rice to enter the country is expected to balloon once the law’s IRR becomes effective, with the government estimating to gain revenue of as much as P26 billion each year from rice imports alone, P10 billion of which will go to Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).
Aside from this, the sector will also have a supplementary budget of P5 billion under the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) rice program and P7 billion for local rice procurement of this National Food Authority (NFA).
“The rice industry will be given the biggest budget in history starting next year,” Piñol said. “This is the greatest irony given that all these funds are just coming in now or at the time we allowed more imported rice to enter the country.”
This, according to him, must calm local rice farmers who are worried about possible price fluctuations due to the entry of more imported rice.
Mercedita Sombilla, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environment Staff, said on Monday that the Rice Tariffication Law will be effective today as originally planned.
“[We expect] the law’s effectivity [on March 5]. We hope to incorporate relevant additional comments [and] hoping to finish by COB [close of business],” Sombilla said yesterday.
Piñol, too, thinks that the law’s IRR should be ready by now, given that the DA was able to submit on time the inputs it gathered from the massive nationwide consultation it had with farmers last week.
“We fast-tracked the holding of consultations. Actually, the DA worked overtime during the weekend. I believe it was a successful exercise,” Piñol said.
The Rice Tariffication Law has removed the regulatory functions of NFA and will only require importers to secure a food safety certificate from DA’s Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) in order to bring in any amount of imported rice into the country.
When asked if BPI is ready to accept applications for food safety certificates, Piñol said “even if we’re not ready we have to be ready.”
Given the expected influx of applications, BPI may also have to temporarily tap employees from NFA, the DA chief said.
“This will be an added task for the BPI actually. And BPI does not have the budget for it. Next year, we may be able to ask for additional budget,” Piñol said.
For this year, BPI will have a budget of P876 million, lower than the more than P1-billion budget it had last year.