PHL to lift restrictions on rice imports by 2017

Posted on September 08, 2016

THE country will open its doors to higher rice imports by next year, the government said on Wednesday, as it looks to comply with a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement to lift trade barriers on the staple food.

A farmer is seen walking through a rice field in Bulacan. -- PHILIPPINE STAR/KRIZJOHN ROSALES
The government will not seek a further extension of the so-called quantitative restrictions on rice, an agreement with the WTO that sets tariffs on rice at 35% and caps the volume of annual imports by the private sector at 805,200 tons, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia told reporters.

The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest rice importers, has kept the restrictions in place since 1995 when it joined the WTO, which has allowed the country two extensions since then.

It imports more than a million tons of rice a year, mostly from Thailand and Vietnam, including tariff-free purchases by the state grains agency the National Food Authority (NFA).

“It’s hard to extend it because we have been given extensions already,” Mr. Pernia said. “I’m sure some people like it extended but in the opinion of the economic team, we prefer to just let it go.”

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, who believes the Philippines could be self-sufficient in rice production by 2019, wants a further extension, saying local farmers are not yet prepared to compete with cheap imports.

But Mr. Pernia argued introducing competition in the domestic market should encourage local farmers to improve efficiency.

In 2014, the Philippines won WTO approval to keep the import restrictions for three more years to June 2017 after the country agreed to lift the annual import volume from 350,000 tons and cut the tariff from 40%. -- Reuters