AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said he has placed the issue of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) permits for garlic importers under his control to prevent cartels from dominating trade in the commodity.

Mr. Piñol said on Wednesday that he is also considering similar measures against meat and onion importers, noting that cartel-like behavior in these products cannot be resolved overnight.

Importers brought in only 19,000 metric tons of garlic in the six months to June, much less than the 70,100 MT they were expected to ship in.

“We will do a second review. We will validate all the lists of importers, some of whom may be fictitious,” he added.

For the second review, Mr. Piñol said the Department of Agriculture (DA) will deploy representatives from the agency to go directly to importing companies’ office addresses.

“We tried to screen this. We reviewed all SPS applications. It’s possible some made it through screening,” he added.

The department in November revoked all SPS permits for the shipment of agricultural products to validate the legitimacy of all importers.

The second SPS freeze follows Tuesday’s Senate hearing in which the DA was asked to explain the spike in the price of garlic that to P200 per kilo during the two months to May; since then the price has fallen to P120 per kilo as of June 4.

The Philippines fills some 93% of its annual garlic demand from Chinese and Indian imports.

The DA is aiming to boost domestic production of garlic to meet 50% of the country’s demand by 2020.

It plans to expand the land area planted to garlic by an additional 20,000 hectares, invest more in cold storage, and identify qualified farmers who can avail of a loan from the agency to plant the crop.

Mr. Piñol assured the public that the DA will invite new importers to raise current inventory levels.

“We have invited new players, and have received some applications. I have told some of them that if they apply, we will make sure they are approved.” Mr. Piñol added. — Janina C. Lim