AVERAGE VALUATIONS on rice imports are rising, the Bureau of Customs (BoC) said, producing total tariff collections of P13.08 billion in the nine months to September.

“The collections are down because the import volumes are also down, but the average valuation — the value over volume — started to improve,” Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Finance department Thursday.

The average valuation of rice imports rose by 6.5% between January and Oct. 15, with the March average at P18,753.82 per ton from P18,178.86 in January. The average rose further to P20,503.07 in May and P27,120 in September.

It said P1.19 billion worth of duties were collected from 176,768 metric tons (MT) of rice imports valued at P3.55 billion in August. In January the equivalent figures were P1.29 billion collected from 223,279 MT valued at P4.058 billion.

Tariff collections have exceeded the P10 billion annual quota which will finance the operations of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), which is authorized by Republic Act No. 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law, the measure which liberalized and tariffied rice imports.

In a separate statement Thursday, the BoC said it will subject 60 rice importers to post clearance audits for shipments brought in during the first half of 2020.

“In addition to the audit, the BoC has also intensified intelligence and enforcement measures, verifying reports from concerned citizens and stakeholders such as local farmer federations, in order to interdict smuggled rice into the country,” it said.

According to its recently-concluded 2019 audit, the BoC found that rice importers owe the agency a combined P1.4 billion worth of deficiencies in customs duties, penalties, surcharges, and interest due to undervaluation of goods.

The Federation of Free Farmers has called on the government to impose temporary safeguard duties or additional tariffs on imported rice instead of giving cash handouts to farmers.

The P10-billion yearly budget for RCEF supports mechanization and other measures to allow farmers to better compete against imports. — Beatrice M. Laforga