AGRICULTURE Secretary William D. Dar said price manipulation by traders and wholesalers is behind the high retail prices of commodities such as pork and chicken.

In a virtual briefing Monday, Mr. Dar said the Department of Agriculture (DA) has asked the Philippine Competition Commission to investigate traders and wholesalers allegedly involved in the manipulation of supply, leading to increased prices.

“Let us not sow panic among consumers. We have enough food in the country. Food prices are being manipulated by wholesalers and traders,” Mr. Dar said.

“During my visit to Batangas last Saturday, traders are the ones dictating farmgate prices. They are manipulating prices. Their profits are too much,” he added.

To bring prices down, Mr. Dar said the DA has proposed an executive order to President Rodrigo R. Duterte that will impose a price ceiling on pork and chicken in the National Capital Region for 60 days.

Once issued, it will cap the price of pork shoulder, or kasim, at P270 per kilogram (kg), pork belly, or liempo, at P300, and dressed chicken at P160.

Mr. Dar said the price ceiling is to prevent businesses from illegally manipulating the prices of basic necessities and assist consumers during the pandemic.

According to the DA’s Monday price monitoring report, the retail price of kasim was between P350 and P400 per kg., while liempo prices were between P380 and P440 and chicken between P160 and P180, well above the DA’s suggested retail prices (SRP).

In November, a price freeze on selected basic commodities was also implemented after President Rodrigo R. Duterte placed Luzon under a state of calamity following a series of typhoons, which hit key food-growing areas and disrupted the transport of goods to market.

Mr. Dar said the focus is now on traders and wholesalers via a proposed competition investigation.

Mr. Dar said the DA is planning to increase its minimum access volume (MAV) allocation for pork imports to 162,000 metric tons (MT), from the current 54,000 MT.

Pork products imported under MAV are charged a 30% tariff, while those outside the MAV are charged 40%.

Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez in a statement Monday called for the creation of a registry of stakeholders involved in the agriculture supply chain. The registry will help future investigations identify the source of sudden price increases.

Mr. Lopez also said that local government units should start a dialogue with retailers regarding the implementation of the SRP.

In a statement Monday, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura Chairman Rosendo O. So said prices are high because the supply of pork in Metro Manila has to be sourced from distant growing areas like the Ilocos and Bicol region. He added that the prices of feed and inputs have also increased.

Mr. So claimed that the hog industry has lost P134 billion due to African Swine Fever, while the poultry industry is being affected by the entry of imports.

“The farmgate price of pork is now between P230 to P250 per kilogram in Luzon. Chicken farmgate price is between P115 to P120 per kilogram. How will traders bring these to Metro Manila? It is high time that the DA help producers,” Mr. So said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave