By Camille A. Aguinaldo
THE imposition of 35% tariffs on imported rice will still leave Philippine rice uncompetitive relative to the produce of Southeast Asian neighbors, Senator Cynthia A. Villar said on Sunday.
In a radio interview, Ms. Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said the national government should provide assistance to rice farmers, particularly for mechanization and acquiring high-yielding seed.
“Even if we provide 35% rice tariffication, our rice is still not competitive. Now I’m asking an assurance from the national government that they provide funds to rice farmers to mechanize and to offer seed that can increase their production per hectare from four metric tons per hectare to six,” she said.
“Because that’s the only way we can compete with Vietnam. And to mechanize as well because the labor cost in Vietnam is cheaper. Ours is expensive because we’re not mechanized,” she added.
Ms. Villar said she plans to take up the rice tariffication bill at the Senate plenary this Congress session. She has identified the bill as among her committee’s legislative priorities.
She said the Senate’s version of the bill has the needed remedies for the sector once the tariff system is imposed, including the P10-billion rice competitive enhancement fund for farmers and the provision mandating the Bureau of Customs (BoC) to implement the national single window system to prevent rice smuggling.
“We will pass the rice tariffication (bill),” she said.
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) have cited the rice tariffication bill as one of the levers for easing inflation, which hit 5.2% in June. The proposed measure seeks to amend Republic Act 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996 in order to lift the quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice imports and impose a 35% tariff on rice.
In his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23, President Rodrigo R. Duterte asked Congress to prioritize the measure, certifying it as urgent as well.
“We are also working on long-term solutions. On top of this agenda to lower the price of rice, we need to switch from the current quota system in importing rice to a tariff system where rice can be imported more freely. This will give us additional resources for our farmers, reduce the price of rice by up to P7 per kilo, and lower inflation significantly,” he said.
“I ask Congress to prioritize this crucial reform, which I have certified as urgent today,” he added.
The bill remains pending at committee level both in the Senate and the House of Representatives. It has been identified as among the priority bills of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC).