A vendor places sugar in plastic bags for sale. — PHILIPPINE STAR/EDD GUMBAN

PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. ordered the Department of Agriculture (DA) to ease the importation process of agricultural products, including allowing industrial users to directly import sugar.

Signed by Mr. Marcos on April 18, Administrative Order (AO)No. 20, directed the DA, in coordination with the departments of Finance and Trade, to “undertake measures to further streamline administrative procedures and policies on the importation of agricultural products and remove non-tariff barriers.”

Non-tariff barriers are policy measures that restrict trade such as quotas, import licensing systems, regulations and red tape, among others.

“It is imperative to further streamline administrative procedures to foster transparency and predictability of policies on the importation of agricultural products in order to help ensure food security, maintain sufficient supply of agricultural products in the domestic market and improve local production,” Mr. Marcos said in the order.   

Mr. Marcos ordered the DA and departments of Trade and Finance  to streamline procedures and requirements in the licensing of importers. Licensed traders will be exempted from the submission of these requirements.

The departments should also facilitate importation of “certain agricultural products” beyond the authorized minimum access volume, and remove or reduce administrative fees, in consultation with the National Economic and Development Authority Committee on Tariff and Related Matters.

The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) was also ordered to streamline and standardize existing guidelines within 30 days from the order’s effectivity. It was also directed to “allow more traders to participate in the sugar import program.”

“The guidelines shall provide for, among others, rules and regulations on the classification or automatic classification of imported sugar, as well as direct importation of sugar by SRA-registered industrial users,” the order stated.

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda said the order, if implemented fully, will  “open sugar imports to direct industrial users.”

“That could end the stagnation of the food manufacturing sector,” he said in a press release. “Right now, sugar prices in the Philippines are the highest in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).”

Under the order, the DA and its bureaus were to streamline the requirements for the issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPSIC). All SPSIC applications not acted on within the prescribed period “shall be deemed approved,” the order read.

The DA was also tasked to review and revise rules and regulations on imports of frozen fish and fishery/aquatic products for wet markets during closed and off-fishing seasons or during calamities, “particularly the provisions that impose quantitative restrictions on fish imports, limit competition and participation in international trade, and restrict the species allowed for importation.”   

“The AO will also poke holes in speculative bubbles in the price of fish, which has high levels of non-tariff protection, such as the Certificate of Necessity to Import,” Mr. Salceda said.

The Bureau of Customs was also ordered to prioritize the unloading and release of agricultural imports.

A “surveillance team” was also created to monitor the import and distribution of agricultural imports and prevent price manipulation, among others. The team will be led by the DA, and include members from the departments of Finance, Interior and Local Government, and Justice as well as the Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation, and Philippine Competition Commission.

Mr. Salceda said the Philippines has among the highest rates of protection for its domestic goods, with a protection level of around 27% as a share of farm receipts across all agricultural goods. 

Inflation accelerated to 3.7% year on year in March from 3.4% in February but slower than the 7.6% clip in the same month last year.

Food inflation rose to 5.7% in March, its fastest print in four months or since the 5.8% recorded in November 2023. Rice inflation climbed to 24.4% in March, also the fastest since the 24.6% print in February 2009. — K.A.T.Atienza