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Duterte seeks clarification why farmers oppose rice tariff

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By Madelaine B. Miraflor

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered government agencies to squeeze in a “one-page” position paper all the issues farmers have raised against the Rice Tariffication Bill, but did not say what exactly he was going to do with it.

Emmanuel Piñol

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said that, after meeting with farmers who are opposing the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Bill, Duterte asked the DA, Department of Finance, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to collate and submit the position of farmers and stakeholders about the law.

But Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Bill, which will liberalize rice importation in the Philippines by replacing volume restrictions with tariff, is likely to be signed by Duterte soon.

When asked about how the farmers’ position paper could have an impact on the Bill’s implementation, Piñol said he “doesn’t want to second guess.”

If Duterte doesn’t veto the Bill, it will lapse into law on February 15.

“It will be the President’s call,” the DA chief said. “But I would assume he is open to changes and as to how these changes will be implemented, that’s beyond me.”

The original intention of the Rice Tariffication Bill is to remove the volume restrictions on rice imports and replace them with tariffs as required by the country’s commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

But Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) National Manager Raul Montemayor said legislators “went too far” in drafting the law after it removed the government’s regulatory functions over rice.

He noted that WTO rules do not prohibit licensing and supervision of importers, or the operations of government agencies like the National Food Authority (NFA) which buy and sell agricultural products in the market.

“In fact, many countries require importers of critical products to secure licenses and subject them to strict provision,” Montemayor said.

Almost all countries have some forms of regulation over their rice markets even if they have long removed quantitative restrictions (QRs).

“Our trading partners in the WTO must be laughing at us for interpreting WTO rules in their favor and making it easier for them to sell their rice to us, while they use every loophole in the rules to protect their own markets,” Montemayor said.

Under the Rice Tariffication Bill, NFA will also no longer be allowed to import and can only boost its stock, which is mainly for calamity and disasters, through local palay procurement.

NFA already warned of the dangers of leaving the country’s staple food under the mercy of the open market.

“The grains industry is one of the most important sectors of our economy as it directly affects everyone because we all eat rice. Leaving it under the mercy of the open market without any regulation is just too dangerous,” NFA’s Officer-in-Charge Administrator Tomas Escarez said.

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