By MADELAINE B. MIRAFLOR
Agriculture Secretary William Dar is seeing a decline in rice imports for the year but at the same time reiterated his appeal for traders not to purchase imported rice during the dry harvest season.
In an interview, Dar told reporters that he sees rice imports further declining amid the strict issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPS-IC) to private traders. Still, he reiterated his appeal for them not to bring in imported rice during the upcoming harvest season.
“We appeal for traders not to apply for SPS-IC because dry harvest season is coming soon,” Dar said, adding that on the part of Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), permit issuance will continue to be restricted.
It was in November when the Philippine government has issued stricter set of guidelines on the issuance of SPS-IC for imported rice.
The move, which is meant to address the influx of imported rice in the country, was done in exchange for the proposal for the government to raise the tariffs slapped on imported rice as a safeguard measure for farmers.
According to Dar, the reception to this move among rice traders is “so far so good.” Regarding the existing SPS-ICs that haven’t been used since last year, he said the government is now looking to revoke them in order to avoid hoarding of permits among traders, who would sometimes use dummies just to be able bring in more cheaper imported rice.
Last year, the Philippines imported about 3 million metric tons (MT) of rice, making the country the world’s top rice importer, beating China.
As a result, palay prices have gone down, incurring as much as ₱70 billion losses among rice farmers.
“We will always strengthen the guidelines,” Dar said, adding that he is now asking BPI Executive Director George Culaste for recommendations on what to do with the unused SPS-IC.
Meanwhile, Dar said he hopes that the country’s mechanization program under Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF) will finally be implemented within the year.
Mechanization is the most crucial process in making Filipino rice farmers competitive because it will lower their production cost at the same time increase their output.
“If the fund will be given to us soon, then we will start by March,” Dar said, referring to the procurement process of new farm machinery that will be distributed to the farmers’ cooperatives that will initially benefit from the RCEF.
RCEF, which is where all the tariffs collected from imported rice should go, was supposed to have P10 billion allocation upon the implementation of Rice Tariffication Law or Republic Act (RA) 11203.
Nevertheless, Dar said the DA was already able to validate 944 farmers’ cooperatives and associations (FCAs) and corresponding technology requirement.