AN agricultural lobby group said various official sources of data are diverging widely on the volume of garlic imports in 2016, which it considers a tell-tale sign of rampant smuggling.

In a statement, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura, Inc., (SINAG) said the country’s trade partners reported to the United Nations that they exported some 62.7 million kilos of garlic to the country in 2016.

However, the group said data from the Department of Trade and Industry reflect only shipments of 58.7 million kilos last year, wildly diverging from the Bureau of Customs (BoC) record of 72.5 million kilos.

“Agencies reporting different garlic importation figures — and quite different from the record of our trading partners,” SINAG said, “We can only view this as (an indication of) technical smuggling.”

The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) placed the garlic imports at 47.6 million kilos.

The lowest government estimate and the trading-partner data suggest volume of smuggled garlic last year was 15 million kilos, SINAG said.

SINAG added that recent garlic price increases, which were being blamed by the government on the inability of importers to ship in garlic due to high prices on the world markets, could be a sign of market-unfriendly behavior.

“Local garlic producers are still struggling from the 25-year policy of wanton garlic importation and smuggling in lieu of domestic production,” SINAG said.

“With only 7.5% of the country’s garlic requirements produced locally, importers/smugglers and traders that form the garlic cartel continue to dictate prices since there is no significant local production to counter the steep price of imported/smuggled garlic. Dependence on imports has destroyed the country’s ability to produce food,” the group added.

To reduce the country’s dependence on garlic imports, the Department of Agriculture is moving to meet at least half of the country’s annual requirement by expanding the land planted to garlic by an additional 20,000 hectares.

Earlier this month, the department also revoked import permits of approved garlic importers that failed to ship the volume of garlic they committed for this year.

The DA expects the involvement of new importers to break the hold of the smuggling cartel. — Janina C. Lim