RICE IMPORTS starting March 5 will be covered by new tariffs under a newly signed law, with the measure expected to generate at least P7 billion in its first year of implementation.
An inter-agency body led by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) is drafting the IRR for Republic Act No. 11203, or the Rice Tariffication Act that was signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Feb. 14.
The measure imposes the following tariffs: 35% for rice imports coming from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); 40% for imports within the 350,000 metric-ton minimum access volume (MAV), regardless of country; and 180% for above-MAV imports from non-ASEAN countries.
In a statement, the Department of Finance (DoF) said the government expects to raise P7-P11 billion from tariffs in the first year of the law’s implementation.
State offices involved in drawing up the IRR include the NEDA, Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Agriculture.
The DoF also clarified that the new tariff scheme will take effect March 5 — 15 days after the law was published on Monday — and not March 3 as the department had initially reported.
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, however, said that the new tariffs can take effect even without the IRR in place.
“There are parts of the law that are clear up front and can be implemented earlier than the parts of the law that require an IRR to implement. The heart of the reform, which tariffies rice importation with the least government intervention, will be implemented as soon as possible to bring down rice prices for more than 100 million Filipino rice consumers,” Mr. Dominguez said in a Viber message to reporters.
Other provisions of the law, which include restructuring of the National Food Authority (NFA) to take it out of grains trading, will be covered by the IRR.
Mr. Dominguez said the NFA now has a P145-billion debt, mainly due to the agency’s practice of buying palay at a high price and then selling it at a low retail price.
In a separate statement, NEDA Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said the first draft of the IRR was completed last week and presented at the NFA Council’s meeting last Monday. It will be revised and subjected to public consultations.
NEDA said the current draft carries provisions on NFA’s new mandate and the streamlining of import requirements. It also spells out details of safety nets for farmers affected by the removal of import limits via the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund provided by the law.
While the law gives a 180-day limit for crafting an IRR, Mr. Dominguez said 30 days would be “sufficient to make a plan.”
The DoF expects rice prices to drop by P2-7 per kilogram with the influx of cheap rice. In turn, the central bank estimates a 0.6 percentage point reduction in the headline inflation for 2019.
One lawmaker on Tuesday cautioned against implementing the law without rules to ensure proper enforcement.
“Hindi na po pala hihintayin ang pagsagawa ng IRR (It seems the government will no longer wait for an IRR before it implements the law)…,” Butil Rep. Cecilia Leonila V. Chavez told reporters in a briefing in the House of Representatives, citing the need to make sure hefty annual allocations to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund will really be used for farmers’ benefit.
“Nakakalungkot pong isipin na sa laki ng kailangan na assistance ng magsasaka ay sinimulan sa P10 billion at in-earmark sa ahensya ng gobyerno na hindi tayo sigurado kung maaaring makapagdownload ang mga ahensya na ‘to diretso sa mga magsasaka (It’s sad to think that we cannot be sure if the P10 billion earmarked annually for this fund for the next six years will go to farmers).”
The law provides that the P10 billion will be allocated through attached agencies of the Department of Agriculture like the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK), among others.
Half of the allocation will support acquisition of rice farm machineries and equipment through the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech), a third will support rice seed development, propagation and promotion through the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), 10% will be for expanded rice credit assistance through LANDBANK and the Development Bank of the Philippines and the remaining 10% for rice extension services through PhilMech, PhilRice, Agricultural Training Institute and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
Sought for comment, Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Joselito G. Lambino II said in a mobile phone message that “the heart of the reform, which tariffies rice importation with the least government intervention, will be implemented ASAP to bring down rice prices for more than 100 million Filipino rice consumers.”
Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told reporters on Tuesday that she will discuss with House of Representatives Agriculture committee chair Jose T. Panganiban, Jr. of the ANAC-IP partylist how the oversight committee can help in the implementation of the law.
“I will ask his ideas but I think it will be good because it’s an important bill and now we’ll make sure it’s implemented,” Ms. Arroyo said.
“So I supposed the implementation details and what to do will depend on Chairman Panganiban. I’ll talk to him because I want to see him. He’s going to chair an oversight on free irrigation sometime next week. So when he does that, I’ll ask him about it.” — Melissa Luz T. Lopez and Charmaine A. Tadalan