By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Senator Cynthia Villar suggested that the Philippine government should restrict the issuance of import permits on rice, which should be done in such a way that only 1 million metric tons (MT) of rice should be allowed to enter the country every year.
This, as she shut down the possibility of raising tariffs on rice imports, which is one of the measures seen to address the declining price of palay.
“We have to prove that we can compete,” Senator Cynthia Villar said on the sidelines of the 2019 National Food Security Summit.
She went on to say that “we got good ratings in the world when we were able to liberalize [because] we weren’t afraid to open the market to imported rice”.
“If we will impose safeguard measures, they will think that we just gave up and that we can’t do it,” she further said.
Implemented in March, the Rice Tariffication Law or Republic Act (RA) 11203 allowed the entry of more imported rice into the country.
Since the law’s passage, more than 2 million metric tons (MT) of cheaper, imported rice already entered the country, resulting in the continuous decline in the price of palay.
Villar, who serves as the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, admitted that it would be easier to impose safeguard measures to address the declining price of palay but “it is an indication that we are afraid” to prove the country’s willingness to boost local rice production.
Under the Section 10 of RA 11203, in order to protect the Philippine rice industry from sudden or extreme price fluctuations, a special safeguard duty on rice could be imposed in accordance with Safeguard Measures Act.
During the first week of October, the average farm-gate price of palay already fell by 28.8 percent to P15.56 per kilogram (/kg) from the P21.86/kg during the same period last year.
To address this, Villar said the government should limit the amount of imported rice that enters the country. This, according to her, should also address the existence of cartel in the rice sector.
“We will try to lessen the importation and limit it to 1 million metric tons because that’s what we need. We will help the rice farmers,” Villar said.
To do this, Villar said the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) is now planning to restrict the issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPS-IC) on rice imports.
In order to import rice, RA 11203 only requires local traders to obtain an SPS-IC from BPI. An SPS certifies that rice imports that will enter the country are free from pests and diseases.
For his part, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the DA will issue next week a set of guidelines that will call for the strict issuance of SPS-IC.
A source said that restricting the issuance of SPS-IC is illegal and that importers can actually file a case against the government for doing it.
Dar, however, said he hopes rice importers will understand the situation and will not import rice during the harvest season.