Gov't to suspend rice importation during local harvest season

The government intends to halt rice importation during the local harvest season to help protect farmers, according to a Palace official.

(File photo/Keith Bacongco/Manila Bulletin)

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque explained that rice importation will only be carried out after the domestic harvest has been completed.

"Paunawa po sa ating mga producers, pero hinding-hindi naman po tayo mag-aangkat sa panahon ng harvest. Hihintayin na muna natin na matapos ang harvest nang sa ganoon ay hindi maapektuhan ang presyo ng bentahan ng mga magsasaka sa merkado (A notice to our producers but we will not import during the harvest season. We will wait for the harvest period to end so the farmers' selling price in the market will not be affected)," Roque said during a televised press briefing Thursday, May 20.

The latest government move seeks to protect farmers' income amid concerns over the entry of cheap rice imports during the one-year lower tariff regime.

The President recently signed Executive Order No. 135 lowering the tariff rates of rice imports to 35 percent from 40 percent for in-quota purchases and 50 percent out-quota volume for one year. The reduced rice import tariffs seek “to diversify the country’s market sources, augment rice supply, maintain prices affordable, and reduce inflationary pressures."

"Despite an increase in the total stock of rice, the estimated local production may still fall short of the total demand, necessitating importation from other countries," the order read.

Roque explained that the lower tariffs on rice imports were meant to shore up the country's rice supply.

"Wala po tayong volume na ini-specify. Ibig sabihin, kakaunti lang po iyan na aangkat using minimally lower tariff from 50 to 35 dahil ang kinakailangan lang naman nating angkatin ay iyong kulang sa ating supply na 10% (There was no volume specified. It means it will be smaller import volume using minimally lower tariff from 50 to 35 because we only need to import our supply shortage of 10 percent)," he said.

"At hindi nga po natin ii-import iyan sa panahon ng anihan dito sa Pilipinas para po hindi makaapekto sa market price ng bigas, ng palay sa panahon ng harvest (And we will not import during the harvest period in the Philippines so the market price of price during harvest will not be affected)," he said.

The President's latest order did not sit well with some senators and farmers' groups.

Two large farmers' groups have opposed the lower tariffs on rice imports, saying such move was baseless. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and four other senators have also asked the Palace to withdraw the tariff cut on rice imports, believing it would only burden farmers, increase import dependency and cost the government millions in foregone revenues.