Other items pushed in extended rice quota deal

Posted on March 07, 2012

SOME COUNTRIES have been receptive to the Philippine application with the World Trade Organization (WTO) to extend ceilings on rice imports in exchange for the entry of other products, an official said.

"There is no progress yet for our application, but we are seeing positive responses in our negotiations, as there are some countries willing to support the extension of our QR (quantitative restrictions) on rice," Agriculture Assistant Secretary Dante S. Delima, concurrent coordinator of the National Rice Program, said in an interview on Monday.

"[These countries] are, however, bargaining with us that in exchange [for the less importation of rice], they also want to bring in other products," he added.

In a text message yesterday, Mr. Delima said that while he could not as yet identify the products, those bargaining with the government are negotiating on the tariff and entry tax rates for their exports.

Last November, the government formally filed with the WTO its intent to start talks on extending its QR on rice as part of efforts to attain self-sufficiency on the staple by the end of next year.

The current rice import quota approved by the WTO in 2006 will remain in effect until June this year. It granted importers a minimum access volume (MAV) of 350,000 metric tons subject to a 40% duty. Imports in excess of the MAV are subjected to a 50% rate.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala had earlier said that the Philippines will offer a lower tariff of 35% in a bid to bag an extended MAV arrangement.

Meanwhile, Mr. Delima said on Monday that the US’ supposed threat to block the Philippine application for an extended rice import quota over concerns on a local rule for handling of frozen meat "has affected the QR extension application at the WTO."

Administrative Order (AO) 22 contains rules and regulations on the handling of frozen and chilled meat and meat products in meat markets to ensure quality and safety.

The policy has been contested by local meat and food processors as well as foreign exporters of meat products to the Philippines, citing high cost of cold chain facilities and the lack of scientific basis of health concerns that were cited in the order.

"They [the US] have made [our application for QR extension] their leverage when they can’t even file their complaints [on AO 22] with the WTO formally," said Mr. Delima.

"It would be good for our QR application if we can resolve the AO 22 issue already," he added.

Mr. Alcala, on the sidelines of yesterday’s Philippine Economic Briefing, told reporters that the department’s discussions with US trade representatives on AO 22 will hopefully be finished within this week.

"We have reached some agreements... We just need to make further consultations with the private sector," the Cabinet official said.

Mr. Alcala declined to elaborate on the details of the amendments to be made on the order.

Meat importers do not seem to have problems about the health and safety concerns that the department is arguing for in its implementation of the order, the Cabinet official said.

He noted that the department is "almost there" in its discussions on the issue of meat handling with importers. -- Bettina Faye V. Roc