THE Department of Agriculture has been asked to disclose the details of its plan to import Indian rice, the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) said on Wednesday.

Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jr. said during a Commission on Appointments hearing on Tuesday that the grain shipments would be sufficient to meet rice demand up to January or February.

The Indian government has allocated a quota of 295,000 metric tons (MT) of non-basmati white rice to the Philippines, after having declared a freeze on such exports to ensure its own domestic supply.

“It is not clear if a government agency will undertake the shipment, notwithstanding the fact that the Rice Tariffication Law prohibits imports by the National Food Authority (NFA)… (or if) the private sector will do the importing,” FFF National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor said in a statement.

Under Republic Act No. 11203, importing rice was removed from the NFA’s functions. Private traders have instead been allowed to bring in rice shipments while paying a 35% tariff on Southeast Asian grain. 

As of Nov. 16, rice imports amounted to 2.93 million MT, according to the Bureau of Plant Industry. 

On Monday, Mr. Laurel had reduced the deadline for rice traders to bring in their imports to 30 days, regardless of its country of origin, through Memorandum Circular No. 53.

Mr. Montemayor added that the FFF is calling for the reinstatement of the 50% tariff on rice sourced from non-ASEAN suppliers.

“Imports from non-ASEAN countries have not increased significantly despite the tariff reduction. Retail prices have not dropped, and most of the rice imports are for premium grades for sale to well-off consumers,” he said, citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Since 2021, the tariff on non-ASEAN grain was cut to 35%, equaling the tariffs on ASEAN and non-ASEAN rice.

Executive Order No. 10, signed by President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. last year extended the lower tariffs until Dec. 31, 2023.

The FFF has argued in a Tariff Commission hearing that government losses from the tariff cuts have topped P1 billion. — Adrian H. Halili