AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said the more permissive system for private rice imports will still require sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) import clearances with inspectors to assess shipments at the port of origin.
“Even for private imports, we will have to implement the SPS and determine whether they are bringing in 25% brokens,” Mr. Piñol told reporters at the sidelines of the ASEAN Agriculture Summit 2018 held at SMX Convention Center in Pasay.
He was referring to the grade of rice typically imported, which is determined by the permissible percentage of broken grains.
Mr. Piñol said that the DA will be sending its staff to ports of origin to issue the SPS clearance and will decline the shipment if it fails to pass.
He said the inspection measures will be in force “effective in the next round of importation.”
Mr. Piñol said that the price of rice has already started to drop with the onset of harvest season, along with the entry of imported rice, according to Philippine Rice Research Institute Executive Director Sailila E. Abdula.
He said the timing of imports remains critical because it can depress the price farmers can obtain at harvest time.
According to Mr. Piñol, the buying price of palay, or unmilled rice, by the National Food Authority remains at P17 but he added that with incentives the actual price is equivalent to P20.
Mr. Piñol also denied that the agriculture sector is at fault for high levels of inflation, noting that those in the farm sector are also victims of high prices.
In his speech at the summit Mr. Piñol said: “Food prices are only indicative of the effect of other inflationary costs. Agriculture only reacts to other causes of inflation like fuel. Do not blame food prices as a cause of inflation.”
In front of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council, he also announced that the Philippines will stop importing higher grades of rice from Vietnam and Thailand.
“Sorry to our friends from Thailand and Vietnam. We will no longer import your Class A rice. Our local farmers will produce the Class A rice,” he said.
Philippine Chamber of Commerce & Industry Chairman George T. Barcelon said that it is necessary for the country to focus on high-value crops, as domestically-produced rice is more expensive than imports.
“The rice we import is cheaper than the food we produce locally. It is important for our country like the Philippines to go for high-value crops,” Mr. Barcelon said.
Ateneo de Manila University professor Cielito F. Habito has said that the pursuit of rice self-sufficiency is driving the price of rice higher because even marginal land is planted to rice, increasing overall farming costs. He instead advocated focusing resources on crops that can be exported such as cacao and coffee.
Mr. Piñol, however, said: “We cannot throw one commodity under the bus and promote another. We’ve got to work on both.” — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio