THE SENATE on Wednesday approved on third and final reading a bill that will liberalize rice importation — a measure the government is counting on to cut retail prices of the staple by about P7 per kilogram and slash 0.7 percentage point off headline inflation which has lately been clocking multi-year peaks.
The House of Representatives approved its version on Aug. 14.
Senate Bill No. 1998 amends Republic Act No. 8178, or the Agricultural Tariffication Act, by replacing current quantitative import restrictions for rice with tariffs.
Under bill, a 35% duty will be imposed on rice imports from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members, while a 50% rate will apply to imports from non-ASEAN countries.
Rice tariff collections will establish and maintain a Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). The RCEF will get P10 billion annually in appropriations for six years. The fund will support grants for rice equipment; development, propagation and promotion of inbred rice seeds among rice farmers and organizations; credit at preferential rates for rice farmers and cooperatives; as well as extension services to teach rice farmers modern methods of farming, seed production and farm mechanization.
The bill also removes the authority of the National Food Authority to regulate importation of rice and to issue import licenses or permits for the private sector.
“Rice tariffication is not a revenue measure. By stipulating in the bill that 100% of duties will be plowed back to farmers, we are sending a strong message to those who might be tempted to use it to primarily raise taxes that their idea is dead in the water,” Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto said in a statement on Wednesday. — Camille A. Aguinaldo