By Madelaine Miraflor
If the forecast of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is right, the Philippines is poised to become the world’s largest rice importer this year, beating China, the world’s most populous country with a population of around 1.4 billion.
In the latest report of USDA, it looked like the Philippines, home to 105 million people, is on track to import 3 million metric tons (MT) this year, while China is expected to import only 2.5 million MT.
This, as the world’s second largest economy continues to boost its local supply.
“The Philippines’ rice imports have nearly quadrupled, from 800,000 metric tons in 2016 to 3.1 million anticipated for 2019, representing 7 percent of total global rice imports. In comparison, China’s share of global rice imports has almost reduced by half, to just over 7 percent,” USDA said in a previous report.
“While China rice imports continue to shrink, Philippine purchases provide much appreciated reprieve from nearby exporters in Southeast Asia,” it added.
In the report, USDA pointed out that the Rice Tariffication Act, passed in March, indeed “led to a considerable increase in imports and, consequently, decline in domestic prices”.
“While this helped lower inflation, the Philippines adjustment to rice liberalization remains a challenge,” the state-run agency said.
Right now, the Philippine government wants to control the importation of rice by restricting the issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPS-IC) to traders.
In order to import rice, the Rice Tariffication Act, RA 11203, only requires local traders to obtain an SPS-IC from the Department of Agriculture (DA). An SPS certifies that rice imports that will enter the country are free from pests and diseases.
“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,” Senator Cynthia Villar, author of RA 11203, said earlier.
While the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) welcomed this, it noted that Villar’s suggestion runs counter both to the spirit and letter of the Rice Liberalization Law that she herself sponsored.
Raul Montemayor, FFF National Manager, noted that RA 11203 was designed to remove all forms of quantitative limits on rice imports and replace these restrictions with tariffs.
“Imposing a limit of one million tons is equivalent to reintroducing a quantitative restriction, which RA 11203 specifically prohibits. The only way you can change that is to repeal or amend the law, which Senator Villar has stubbornly opposed,” Montemayor said