Dominguez to take blame if pork imports fail

Published April 20, 2021, 5:12 PM

by Chino S. Leyco

The Duterte administration’s chief economic manager has called on lawmakers to support temporary increased in pork imports at lower tariff rates to address the scarcity in the domestic supply of hog meat.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said the lower import tariffs and higher the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) on pork will ensure that meat remains affordable to Filipino families already reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Dominguez, chairman of President Duterte’s Economic Development Cluster (EDC), said their policy on pork importation went extensive deliberations and consultations among concerned agencies and the public.

He added they also considered all the tradeoffs in the cost benefit analysis done on pork imports.

In a letter addressed to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Dominguez said that as EDC chair, he was taking full responsibility for supporting and recommending that the President sign Executive Order (EO) No. 128, which temporarily modified the rates of pork import duties.

“I would like to take this opportunity to urge the Senate to support this measure so that some 100 million Filipinos who eat pork, especially the poor, will not be penalized by high food prices. If left unresolved, poverty and malnutrition will increase,” Dominguez said in his letter. 

“Elevated pork prices will add another problem to households whose incomes have already been heavily strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, the finance chief said.

“With African Swine Fever (ASF) raging through farms for almost two years, data show that domestic supply will remain inadequate for the needs of consumers,” he added. 

Pork prices in Metro Manila have already reached as high as P327 per kilo in March, which is 59 percent higher compared to last year.

In March 2021, meat inflation increased to 20.9 percent and was the top contributor to overall inflation of 1.4 percentage points, even higher than the one percent contribution to inflation of rice at the height of the 2018 rice crisis. 

Dominguez said that to resolve the ASF crisis gripping the domestic hog industry, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has put in place several programs.

Among them, Dominguez said are repopulating the swine population, compensating producers for losses in culled hogs, and investing in long-term solutions to the problems of the swine industry.

He pointed out though, that these are medium-term and long-term solutions that will not immediately address the current price pressures affecting pork consumers. 

Contrary to misperceptions, the DA does not intend to rely on importation alone to solve supply issues in the long haul, Dominguez said.  

“Even with increased imports, a large part of domestic demand is expected to be covered by domestic production, which the DA will aggressively support with improved implementation of its hog production assistance and repopulation program,” he said. 

Dominguez said the proposed pork import program will only cover 22.8 percent of total domestic consumption. 

“The EDC fully understands that its ongoing efforts to support the domestic industry in overcoming ASF and other issues are critical,” he said. 

Dominguez said the DA has been helping the hog industry recover since 2019 through various programs including.

“To allay the fears of our local hog raisers, the MAV Management Committee (MMC) can also issue additional rules and regulations for the MAV allocation to be subject to a quarterly review as an additional measure to avoid imported pork flooding the market and depressing local prices below profitable levels,” Dominguez said. 

He said that to immediately address the needs of consumers, the EDC recommended as an emergency measure the temporary increase in the MAV and decrease in tariff rates, which will then be gradually adjusted upward and completely restored to original rates after 12 months. The move to recommend this emergency measure was not done overnight but underwent a series of executive actions beginning January this year, he said.