THE GOVERNMENT told rice farmers Thursday that rice imports will be timed to avoid the harvest in order to give producers a better chance to fetch good prices for their produce.

The President’s spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. was responding to calls from agriculture associations and senators to withdraw a recent order lowering import duties on rice.

Paunawa po sa mga producers, hindi naman tayo mag aangkat sa panahon ng harvests (I hope producers understand that we do not intend to import during the harvest),” he said at a televised news briefing.

Hihintayin muna natin na matapos ang harvest, nang sa ganoon ay hindi maapektuhan ang presyo ng bentahan ng mga magsasaka sa merkado (We will wait for the harvest season to close in order not to interfere with the prices farmers can command on the market).”

Under Executive Order No. 135, the President cut the most-favored nation (MFN) tariff rate for rice to 35% for one year, bringing them to parity with the rates charged on grain from ASEAN, where the Philippines’ fellow enjoy special tariff privileges under a regional trade agreement. MFNs refer to any other country the Philippines trades with that is not entitled to such trade privileges.

Mr. Roque has said the tariff reduction took into consideration the “increase in global rice prices and the uncertainties surrounding the steady supply of rice.”

The Agriculture department this week said rice farmers harvested a total of 4.626 million metric tons of palay in the first quarter, up 8.6% from a year earlier. 

The Federation of Free Farmers called the President’s order “deceptive” and “unnecessary” because of the steady supply of rice.

Senators have also asked the President to withdraw the order lowering tariffs on imported pork products. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza