By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The Philippines will soon lose its right to impose safeguard measures on imported agriculture products, a top agriculture official said.
Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo R. Serrano said the Rice Tariffication Law, which was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last month, will not only remove volume restrictions on rice importation. It also amended Republic Act (RA) No. 8800 or the 'Safeguard Measures Act'.
RA 8800 is an act protecting local industries by providing safeguard measures to be undertaken in response to increased imports and providing penalties for violation.
Under the law, Philippines shall apply a general safeguard measure upon a positive final determination of the Tariff Commission that a product is being imported into the country in increased quantities, whether absolute or relative to the domestic production.
"If you invoke RA 8800, you have the option to impose a temporary or a tenured QR to stem prejudice or damage to the industry. It is a very effective measure," Serrano said.
"Now, that wouldn't be available to all agriculture products. That's the biggest whammy on the agriculture sector. There would be no safeguards for rice imports, technically," he added.
Other commodities to be affected by this measure include pork and chicken.
Serrano referred to these commodities as "collateral damage" just so the government can finally implement the Rice Tariffication Law.
To be specific, the Rice Tariffication Law seeks to replace the QRs on rice imports with tariff as required by the country's commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Serrano said the removal of the safeguard measure is one of the reasons why the Department of Agriculture (DA) initially opposed the law's implementation.
" but to no avail. Now that the President already signed it, we decided to keep our mouth shut. Now we just want the IRR of the law to at least see to it that the law's effect to other sectors will be alleviated," Serrano said.
The government's target to release the IRR of the Rice Tariffication Law last March 5 was not met. The new target would either be this week or next week.
During the meeting of the National Food Authority (NFA) Council last week, the Council was only able to approve the draft IRR of the law and did not release anything.
"It's in the hands of NEDA now. The Council already agreed to approve the resolution ad referendum. As soon as it is done the three secretaries — NEDA, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Budget and Management —will sign the IRR," Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said earlier.
Piñol said since the draft IRR only needed "simple amendments", he doesn't think it will take NEDA take too much time to come up with the IRR's final version.
The release of the IRR of the Rice Tariffication Law will pave the way for the law's actual implementation.
Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Executive Director Jayson Cainglet said in an earlier interview that under a liberalized scheme, the Philippine government can always impose import ban depending on the season and on the amount of rice that is available in the market.
"It is within the power of the government to impose import ban. All the countries do that. It should be included in the IRR of the law. As long as the government can prove that the amount of imported rice that entered the could already injure the local rice sector, it should be okay to impose the ban," Cainglet said.
This was later on backed by Piñol, saying that technically, it is part of the law.
Based on the Rice Tariffication Law, the tariff rate for imported rice coming from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) like Thailand and Vietnam is about 35 percent. Outside ASEAN, the tariff rate will be higher at 50 percent.
The law also says that tariff rate could go as high as 180 percent, but it didn't cite specific scenarios that will trigger such.
Piñol said a supply glut could push the tariff rate this high or when the local farmers are already suffering from the oversupply.
"When you increase the tariff to 180 percent, who else will import? That is technically an import ban," Piñol said.