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Rice duty referral to economic team seen as ‘waste of time’

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PHILSTAR

A FARMERS’ association said it doubts that economic managers will greenlight a proposal to impose safeguard measures on imported rice and called a referral of the matter to them a “waste of time.”

“Tossing the issue to the EDC [Economic Development Managers] is an exercise in futility and a waste of time,” Federation of Free Farmers National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor said in a statement, noting that the economic managers are unlikely to look with favor upon the proposed safeguard measures as they themselves backed the liberalization of rice imports.

“They have repeatedly alluded to the suffering of farmers as mere ‘birth pains,’ and have argued that the benefit of the (Rice Tariffication) law to the consumers far outweighs the losses of farmers,” he added.

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar announced on Friday that the department has terminated the process of studying the imposition of safeguard duties on imported rice. The matter will be discussed with the economic managers at an Oct. 24 meeting. He did not say why the investigation process was terminated.

“There seems to be no sense of urgency and no appreciation of the serious difficulties that rice farmers are facing at present because of the surge of cheap rice imports,” Mr. Montemayor said.

The Philippines started its safeguard duty investigation on Sept. 11, amid allegations that rice imports caused a plunge in farmgate prices of palay, or unmilled rice, following the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law, which liberalized rice imports and imposed a tariff of 35% on Southeast Asian grain.




Mr. Dar said that rice imports on order from March to August amounted to 2.4 million metric tons (MMT). Of this, 1.6 MMT has entered the country.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the farmgate price of palay fell 30.1% year-on-year in the third week of September, to P15.96 per kilogram.

Under Republic Act No. 8800 or the Safeguard Measures Act, government officials can make an initial determination that increased imports of a product have caused undue harm to domestic industry due to unfair foreign competition. The official has 30 days to make a decision from receipt of the petition for investigation.

“Delaying a decision defeats the purpose of the law, and may make the harm to farmers irreparable,” Mr. Montemayor said, and adding that such consultation should have been done earlier given the current state of the rice industry.

The group maintained that safeguard duties will not result in higher retail pries for rice as long as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) does its job of monitoring traders and retailers.

Asked to comment, Philippine Institute for Development Studies Research Fellow Roehlano M. Briones said he favors the termination of the investigation.

“I favor it… Allow the status quo on trade policy of RA 11203 (the Rice Tariffication Act). Safeguards will partially reverse gains on the consumer side,” he said in a text message, and adding that increasing tariff will only lead to higher prics for imported rice already in the country prior to its imposition since higher tariffs would discourage importers from bringing in more rice. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang

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