THE RICE TARIFFICATION bill, the coconut levy trust fund bill, and the bill reorganizing the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) made it through the bicameral conference committee on Thursday, Senator Cynthia A. Villar said.
The rice tariffication bill seeks to amend Republic No. 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act in order to implement a system of rice tariffs in exchange for a more liberal import regime. It imposes a 35% duty on rice imports on shipments from member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while a 50% rate will apply to imports from non-ASEAN countries.
The bill reduces the functions of the National Food Authority (NFA) to maintaining a rice buffer stock. Ms. Villar said the bicameral conference committee agreed to specify that the buffer stocking will be sourced from Filipino farmers.
The collections from the rice tariffs will create a Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) that will improve the competitiveness of the domestic rice industry. Under the bill, a P10 billion fixed appropriation for the RCEF will be used for farmer mechanization programs, the development of rice seed, credit facilities and training for farmers.
The coconut levy fund bill seeks to put the P100 billion coconut levy assets into a trust fund to be utilized by coconut farmers. Its complementary bill reorganizes the PCA, which will be tasked to manage the trust fund.
Under the bill, P5 billion from the fund will be spent on scholarship programs, empowerment of coconut farmer organizations, and farm improvement, among others. Another P10 billion sourced from the General Appropriations Act will be appropriated as the budget of the PCA for the development of the coconut industry.
The bicameral conference committee has also reconciled provisions on the composition of the PCA. The coconut levy fund bill was recalled from Malacañang last October after Cabinet Secretaries indicated their opposition to a majority of the PCA board consisting of private individuals.
Ms. Villar said the PCA would now be composed of eight representatives from the government — including the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Finance (DoF), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Science and Technology (DoST), the Landbank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) — plus six representatives from the farmers, and one representative from the private sector.
The bicameral conference committee has also agreed to review the RCEF and the coconut levy trust fund after six years.
“For the coconut farmers, we will give the coco levy fund at the rate of P5 billion a year for the next 25 years. The industry approved that they will allocate P10 billion a year for the benefit of the coconut industry… For the rice farmers, we have the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund that is P10 billion a year… So I hope we will be successful because we are trying a relatively different model,” Ms. Villar told reporters.
The rice tariffication bill and the coconut levy trust fund bill were identified as among the priority bills of Congress by the Legislative Executive Development Authority Council (LEDAC).
Ms. Villar expects the bills to be signed into law before the year ends. — Camille A. Aguinaldo