Proposed ban on rice imports during harvest time questioned

The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) has questioned the plan of the Philippine government to ban the entry of rice imports during harvest season, a move that will supposedly serve as a compromise to Malacañang’s latest move to temporarily slash tariff on imported rice from non-ASEAN countries.

That compromise is “deceptive” and “legally untenable”, according to FFF.

To recall, President Rodrigo Duterte recently issued Executive Order (EO) 135, reducing the tariffs on rice imports from non-ASEAN countries. This raised farmers’ fears that cheap imports will again flood the country and depress local palay prices. In questioning the basis for the EO, FFF particularly pointed out that rice prices are stable, import flows are normal, and rice inventories are at comfortable levels.

Supporting the farmers, some senators, including Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Francis Pangilinan, asked Malacañang to withdraw EO 135.

The senators said such a policy will burden farmers, make the Philippines more dependent on imports, and will result in foregone revenues on the part of the government.

As a compromise, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said on Thursday that the government will halt rice importation during the local harvest season to help protect farmers.

However, the FFF recalled that President Duterte had already declared a similar policy of stopping rice importation at harvest time during a dialogue with farmers in Candon City, Ilocos Sur last July 25, 2019. But soon after, the President reversed his position upon the advice of his economic managers.

At the time, farmers were complaining about plunging palay prices due to massive imports following the effectivity of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) on March 5, 2019. According to the FFF, in 2020, the Department of Agriculture (DA) had also sought to manage the entry of imported rice by suspending the issuance of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Import Clearances (SPSICs) starting in September. But, the move did not arrest the drop in palay prices.

During the peak harvest season, farm gate prices fell between P15 and 16 per kilo, way below the P19 official buying price of the National Food Authority (NFA). “The DA failed to disclose that SPSICs issued before the moratorium had validity periods of 30 to 60 days. As a result, some 232,000 metric tons of imports still came in while farmers were harvesting between September and November,” said Raul Montemayor, FFF National Manager.

“A moratorium on imports will also have limited effect, because traders will just bring in their shipments before the ban takes effect. The market will still be flooded and warehouses will still be full with cheap imported stocks when farmers start harvesting, especially if the proposed tariff reduction under EO 135 pushes through. This will surely result in reduced palay prices,” he added.

The FFF reiterated its earlier warning that withholding SPSIC issuances to restrict imports is illegal under the RTL and the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Finally, the group likewise called on Senator Cynthia Villar, Chairperson of the Committee on Agriculture, to immediately call a hearing to deliberate on Senate Resolution 726 filed by Senators Kiko Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima and Risa Hontiveros, urging the President to withdraw EO 135.

“We hope that Senator Villar and the other Senators act immediately to protect our three million rice farmers in the same way that they defended our pork producers recently,” Montemayor said.