SENATOR Cynthia A. Villar reported out to the plenary on Monday the rice tariffication bill, which seeks to liberalize rice imports while imposing a tariff system on the commodity.
In her sponsorship speech, Ms. Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture, said the bill will help reduce rice prices and provide support for local farmers who will be affected by the influx of cheaper imported rice.
“It’s really timely that we implement rice tariffication, not only because of our commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO) but also to address the country’s present problems with the price and supply of rice,” she said.
Senate Bill No. 1998 seeks to amend Republic Act No 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act to implement a system of rice tariffs. A 35% duty will be imposed on imports coming from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while a 50% rate will apply to imports from non-ASEAN countries.
Ms. Villar said the bill will also remove the authority of the National Food Authority (NFA) to regulate the importation of rice and to issue import licenses or permits for the private sector.
“In effect, it will remove unnecessary government intervention in the rice market… and the government can focus on regulating to ensure food safety and fair market competition,” she said.
Another feature of the bill is the creation of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund consisting of an initial appropriation of P10 billion sourced from the national budget until such time that there are sufficient collections from tariffs.
Funding for succeeding years will come from the tariff revenue for rice importation, estimated at P8 billion yearly.
The proposed fund will be allocated as follows: 50% for grants to farmers’ associations, registered rice cooperatives, and local government units in the form of rice equipment, to be implemented by the Philippine Center for Post-Harvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech); 30% for the development, propagation and promotion of inbred rice seeds to rice farmers and organizations, to be implemented by the Philippine Rice Research Institution (PhilRice); 10% in the form of credit at preferential rates to rice farmers and cooperatives to be managed by Land Bank and the Development Bank of the Philippines; and 10% for extension services to teach rice farmers modern methods of farming, seed production, and farm mechanization, to be administered by PhilMech, PhilRice, the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
Beneficiaries of the rice fund will be listed in the registry system for basic sectors in agriculture, which will also be managed by the Department of Agriculture (DA).
The bill also mandates the completion of the rice industry road map in order to encourage sustainable investment and to restructure delivery of the government’s support services in the rice industry.
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) have cited the rice tariffication bill as one of the measures that will help ease inflation, which hit 6.4% in August.
The bill’s counterpart version at the House of Representatives passed on third and final reading on Aug. 14. It has been identified as a priority bill by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC). — Camille A. Aguinaldo