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Gov’t set to remove food import barriers this month

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By Chino Leyco

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said today that the government will remove administrative and non-tariff barriers on the importation of food items this month to temper the skyrocketing consumer prices.

MB FILE -Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and NEDA Director- General Dr. Ernesto M. Pernia gestures during a press briefing held at the New Executive Building in Malacañang on August 23, 2016. (Photo by Richard V. Viñas) / MANILA BULLETIN

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and NEDA Director-General Dr. Ernesto M. Pernia (Photo by Richard V. Viñas) / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

In a statement, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said the draft executive order (EO) to remove the barriers has been submitted by the Economic Development Cluster (EDC) to the office of the President.

Pernia said they want to implement the measures starting this month.

Recommended to the President before Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, the EO will zero in on fish, rice, sugar, meat and vegetables — considering that the rise in prices of these items has been the major contributor to inflation for the past two months.

Fish and seafood, rice and meat, and vegetables accounted for 2.4 percentage points out of the 6.4 percent inflation rate in August.

“The issuance of the Executive Order, as well as quick implementation of immediate and short-term measures, will address the supply issues that have been driving up inflation,” Pernia said.

The proposed EO will jump off from the measures and reforms identified by the EDC to tame food inflation.

Immediate to short-term measures include making rice available in the market through immediate release of stocks from National Food Authority (NFA) warehouses, importation, and distribution of projected harvest; monitoring of rice transfer from ports to warehouses and retail outlets; and the speedy passage of the Rice Tariffication Bill.

Availability of fish and chicken will be increased by allowing imports to be distributed quickly and by setting up public markets with cold storage facilities where producers can sell directly to end consumers.

Apart from importation, improving logistics, transport, distribution, and storage was also deemed crucial for curbing price inflation of sugar, vegetables, and other food items.

Medium- to long-term measures include boosting agricultural production by promoting the use of and developing resilient and high-yielding varieties of crops while reassessing the country’s planting season and crop viability in each region.

Policy measures include the review and possible amendment of the Fisheries Code and other policies governing the sector and legislation for the tariffication also of sugar, fish, meat and vegetables.

The EDC reiterated the urgency of passing the Rice Tariffication bill, which is currently in the Senate after approval by the House of Representatives on its third and final reading.

“The Rice Tariffication bill must be passed with haste not only to curb inflation but also to provide farmers better access to farming technologies. This will increase productivity and supply in the medium-term,” the EDC added.

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