The Department of Agriculture (DA) will not withdraw its proposal for tariff reduction on pork and rice imports despite the growing number of groups – including farmers, raisers, advocates – opposing such a move.
When asked if he will consider the possibility of withdrawing DA’s proposal, Agriculture Secretary William Dar simply said “no”. He did not expound his answer.
He even said on Friday that he is hopeful that the Tariff Commission (TC) will soon approve it.
DA’s proposal to lower the tariff rates for in-quota and out-quota imports of rice and pork for a period of one year is now pending approval at TC.
The agency wants to specifically reduce the tariff for pork imports under the minimum access volume (MAV) from the current 30 percent to 5 percent in the first six months of the implementation of the proposal and to 10 percent in the next six months.
For pork imports outside MAV, the recommendation is for the tariff to be reduced from the current 40 percent to 15 percent in the first six months and 20 percent in the next six months.
The DA also asked TC to reduce tariffs on rice imported from non-ASEAN countries to only 35 percent from the current 50 percent.
Both proposals were backed by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
As of Friday, more groups, who are composed of farmers and hog raisers, are opposing DA’s proposal
In a statement, the Nagkakaisang Boses Laban sa Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) and Bayanihan sa Agrikultura rejected DA’s proposal as this “will further exacerbate the crisis facing the local agriculture sector, most especially the local food producers depending on it for livelihood”.
“The proposed reduction in tariffs was not subjected to proper consultation with the local food producers, the constituency that will be affected the most by this move,” the group said in a joint statement.
According to them, ever since the beginning of the implementation of RTL, an estimated amount of losses in farmers’ income is already anywhere between P40 to P80 billion.
Passed in 2019, RTL allowed unlimited rice importation in the Philippines.
The groups also said that TC and the Bureau of Customs (BoC) have not even resolved the undervaluation anomaly in rice imports as uncovered by farmers’ groups in 2020.
The agency’s under-collection of duties from importers was said to have reached P5 billion already since the enactment of the RTL.
“We are already hurting due to the very low farmgate prices of palay during harvest season, which resulted in our loss of income. At the same time, we can’t even buy the rice we harvested because we have no money to buy it,” said Maning del Rosario, a rice farmer from Tarlac and member of the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan (PKSK).
“Then the government comes-up with a proposal to reduce the tariff on imported rice. To begin with, the assistance provided by the government is already insufficient and delayed. This shows that we cannot really depend on the government because it prioritizes more the needs of importers and traders than the needs of small farmers,” he added.
The groups also called out the DA for looking at the international market to augment the country’s hog supply through more importation, instead of focusing on assisting the local industry in developing a comprehensive plan to address the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreaks.
So far, ASF, a fatal animal disease among swine, already crept into all island regions in the Philippines, with Luzon as the most affected area.
About 430,206 pigs were already culled due to the virus, pulling down the supply of pork in Luzon at a critical level and pushing its prices to the roof.
There is also a report of a new ASF variant, which can also be found in frozen meats.
As of Friday, the price of pork averages at P350 to P380 per kilogram at select markets in Metro Manila.
Meanwhile, in a separate appeal, the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) also asked the DA to stop further cutting tariffs on pork and instead focus on hog vaccination against ASF and increase the budget for the livestock sector.
The group also insisted that “price distortions and economic problems in livestock and poultry is rooted mainly on DA’s perennial inefficiencies”.
“Albert Einstein said it is insanity to be doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto said on Friday.
PCAFI’s recommendations to the DA include the realignment of DA’s P24 billion budget under Bayanihan 2 so that a bigger fund will go to livestock and poultry, as well as the purchase of more ASF vaccines from Vietnam to stop the spread of the animal disease.
In response to the opposition to his agency’s proposal, DA Assistant Secretary for Strategic Communications Noel Reyes only said “the matter is with Tariff Commission” and that these groups should just “participate in consultations”.
Dar, in a statement, also directed all DA officials to step up efforts by pouring needed resources to stabilize the supply and prices of pork and poultry and other basic food items.
“To support the agricultural and overall economic recovery efforts of the Duterte administration, we need to step up our game and do the needed innovative adjustments in terms of resource utilization and direct it where it is needed,” Dar said.