THE Department of Agriculture (DA) needs to announce a clear schedule for its proposed new crop timetable to facilitate the timing of imports, according to a former administrator of the National Food Authority (NFA).
Romeo G. David, who was NFA Administrator during the Ramos administration, said in a text message: “I have no problem imposing 35% tariff on imported rice but a very strict import or landing window must be clear and imposed, accountabilities identified, penalties spelled out subject to periodic updating. The Secretary of the DA should (also) be tasked to announce the cropping schedule with a clear date before each cropping season to allow the setting of the import window.”
The current import regime seeks to avoid synchronizing the arrival of rice imports with the harvest, in order not to depress the prices farmers obtain for their produce. The DA has since proposed altering the rice planting calendar to minimize the chances of destructive typhoons transiting through key rice growing provinces during critical periods of the crop’s development.
The rice tariffication bill aims to remove quantitative restrictions on rice importation, but applies a 35% tariff on shipments by the private sector from countries within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and a 50% tariff for non-ASEAN member countries.
“Anything arriving that falls outside the window must be immediately confiscated in favor of government without question (with responsibility and risk with the importer) to be added to government inventory for use in calamity relief. The illegally imported rice must be accounted for and released by Customs and delivered to NFA immediately for warehousing and management in trust for the government,” Mr. David said.
He added: “A portion of taxes collected must be committed to continuous updating of economic data (area-specific production and consumption including prices of inputs, transport, and retail prices) on rice, corn and grain to help farmers and government make informed decision towards improving farm family income.”
Mr. David said that the NFA or the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) should facilitate the registration of import applications and certificates that the volumes are within the consumption ceiling for the period to avoid oversupply. He said that to avoid corruption, this should be done electronically.
The rice tariffication bill which has been approved by the bicameral conference committee has yet to be signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
Herculano C. Co, Jr., president of the Philippine Confederation of Grains Association (PCGA), said that the rice industry is a sunset industry, given the lack of support from the government for the farmers.
“This is a sunset industry. Give it two years, this industry will be gone,” Mr. Co said at a briefing on Food Supply for the Holidays organized by the Philippine Agricultural Journalists (PAJ) on Tuesday.
“If the palay (unmilled rice) falls below the support price, that is the time the NFA comes in. This time it will be different with private sector imports, which will depress prices, and that is a problem. Can the farmers match that price without government support?” Mr. Co said.
Mr. Co said that the tariff which is supposed to be used for the Rice Competitiveness and Enhancement Fund (RCEF) has no clear provisions on how this will be distributed to the farmers. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio