THE National Food Authority (NFA) said President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s order to freely import rice will not disadvantage farmers as the government will remain responsible for keeping the overall rice supply in equilibrium.
In a phone interview, NFA Spokesperson Angel G. Imperial said: “Rice supply needs to be balanced — there cannot be an undersupply or oversupply… The balance should always be maintained. There should be equilibrium.”
“The government is responsible for balancing the market based on the data available from the Philippine Statistics Authority,” Mr. Imperial said, suggesting that imports will be calibrated to match the degree to which domestic production cannot supply the market.
According to Mr. Imperial, Mr. Duterte’s directive only means removing administrative impediments and non-tariff barriers and not unrestricted rice imports.
“What he meant was unimpeded importation processes… to be removed are the administrative impediments and non-tariff barriers to ease the entry of agricultural products, particularly rice,” Mr. Imperial said.
“Does that mean anyone can import? In the absence of a document or written instruction, we will still follow the law, which sets a Minimum Access Volume (MAV) for imports,” Mr. Imperial said.
The MAV of rice for the Philippines is set at 805,200 metric tons. MAV is the volume of a specific agricultural good allowed to be imported with a lower tariff as committed by the Philippines to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) has said that it was alarmed by the prospect of imported rice flooding the market, to the detriment of farmers.
“We have been run over by TRAIN. Now we will be swept by a flood of imports,” FFF President Ruben D. Presilda said, referring to the tax reform law that has been blamed for rising prices.
FFF national policy board chairman and former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Q. Montemayor also expressed concern over the Senate version of the rice tariffication bill, which would allow rice to be more imported freely while charging tariffs on shipments.
“Almost all countries, including those in ASEAN, and even advanced countries like Japan and South Korea, require all rice importers to obtain licenses so that imports can be monitored and kept within bounds,” Mr. Montemayor said.
Mr. Imperial, however said that the NFA disagrees with the bill’s proposal to remove the import-licensing powers of the agency.
“The licensing power should be there because one function of the NFA is to regulate,” Mr. Imperial said.
He said no one wants oversupply, which would mean no profits for everyone. It has to be acceptable to all,” Mr. Imperial added. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio