House panel studying rice safeguard measures

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farmer rice field

LEGISLATORS are considering amendments to afford a measure of protection for rice farmers suffering from weak prices for palay, or unmilled rice.

The Safeguard Measures Act, or Republic Act 8800, authorizes the Tariff Commission to impose temporary protection for domestic producers if they are found to have suffered “serious injury” due to unfair competition from imports.

“It may actually be an amendment to the Safeguard (Measures) Act. Also, we may add it to the Rice Tariffication Law, so with that we still have to discuss how to go about that as a committee,” Rep. Wilfrido Mark M. Enverga of the first district of Quezon told reporters.

Mr. Enverga, who chairs the House Agriculture and Food committee, did not give further details on his planned course of action.

RA 8800 defines “serious injury” as “a significant impairment in the position of a domestic industry after evaluation by competent authorities of all relevant factors of an objective and quantifiable nature having a bearing on the situation of the industry concerned, in particular, the rate and amount of the increase in imports of the product concerned in absolute and relative terms, the share of the domestic market taken by increased imports, changes in levels of sales, production, productivity, capacity utilization, profit and losses, and employment.”

Rice farmers have been obtaining weak prices for their palay harvests after the Rice Tariffication Act went into effect earlier this year. The act liberalized rice imports, forcing domestic farmers to compete with cheap imports from more efficient producers in the region.

Rice tariffication was a response to the inflation crisis of 2018, when the National Food Authority (NFA) allowed its stocks of low-cost rice to dwindle, forcing poor families to buy their grain from more expensive commercial dealers.

Under the law, the NFA’s importing role was taken away and effectively privatized, allowing private entities to engage in shipping in the commodity.

In exchange, rice importers have to pay tariffs on their inbound shipments, starting at 35% on rice from Southeast Asia.

The tariffs are supposed to support the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), but disbursements from the fund have been delayed, while the market for domestic rice has softened considerably because of the imports.

Various other relief programs for farmers have been proposed, including emergency purchasing by local governments to support the market.

“I’m sure these will be a big help for now but we have to reassess this probably two months from now what the impact of this subsidy will be,” Mr. Enverga said.

He said he wants to look into the subsidies to farmers being implemented by other countries like Thailand and the US.

“The Department of Agriculture has admitted that we will have to help the farmers first before we even consider repealing the (Rice Tariffication) law, but (we could amend it with)… safeguard measures,” he said. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang