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Rice farmers call for safeguard measures probe, extra tariffs

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PHILSTAR

THE Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) called for a safeguard measures investigation into imported rice, rejecting proposals to provide cash aid to farmers from rice tariffs as outlined in a Senate resolution.

In a statement Sunday, FFF National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor said that temporarily imposing safeguard duties or additional tariffs on imported rice would be a more cost-effective approach than designating rice tariffs for farmer aid.

The Senate Committees on Agriculture, Food, and Agrarian Reform, Finance and Ways and Means on Oct. 16 passed Joint Resolution No. 12 calling for the aid to farmers funded by excess tariffs collected on imported rice.

The Rice Tariffication Law or Republic Act 11203 authorizes the collection of tariffs on rice imports and allots P10 billion a year for five years to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). The P10 billion total has been exceeded for the year, according to the Bureau of Customs, raising the question of where to send the excess collections.

“If it had instead imposed additional duties on imports, palay prices would not have dropped too much; there would have been no need for cash aid to farmers, and the government might have even earned extra revenue from the safeguard duties,” Mr. Montemayor said.

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RA 8800, or the Safeguard Measures Act, authorizes temporary duties on imports after a regulator determines in an investigation that they have been excessive, to the point of doing harm to a domestic industry.

According to FFF, the proposed cash aid would amount to P5,000 per farmer if distributed to some 600,000 farmers tilling one hectare or less.

However, the aid will drop to P2,700 if the number of qualified farmers is 1.1 million, in the reckoning of Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar.

“In comparison, farmers have lost an average of P10,000 per hectare in the ongoing cropping season due to severely depressed palay prices. Either proposal will be unfair to equally affected rice farmers tilling larger areas,” Mr. Montemayor said.

Senator Cynthia A. Villar, who chairs the committee, said that based on preliminary data from the Bureau of Customs, around P13.681 billion has been collected in the nine months to September.

The FFF also contends that tariff collections have been artificially depressed by undervation, which constitutes technical smuggling.

It said P4 billion more could have been collected in tariffs since March 2019 had tariffs been assessed on accurate values.

“These importers will simply look for other proxy groups. What is needed is to tighten the accreditation of importers and make it difficult and costly for them to undervalue their shipments,” Mr. Montemayor said.

“Safeguard duties will not be inflationary as claimed by the Department of Agriculture (DA), because they will be applied only when there is already a proven oversupply in the market.  They can be removed once the situation stabilizes,” Mr. Montemayor said.

Instead of providing cash aid, Mr. Montemayor said the RCEF funding as well as additional tariff collections should be used to address the current problems affecting farmers.

“The P5-billion annual fund for mechanization is not moving well, and it might be more practical at this time to preserve jobs for farm laborers instead of displacing them with machines,” Mr. Montemayor said.

“The P1-billion budget for extension and training could be realigned, considering that farmers cannot attend training activities due to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) -related restrictions,” he added. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

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