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Dominguez rejects halt on rice imports

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By Chino Leyco

The national government is not vowing to pressure from farmers’ groups calling for the suspension of the rice tariffication law amid the influx of imported grains that resulted in low farm-gate price of palay.

Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez III answers question during a roundtable discussion with senior editors of The Manila Bulletin yesterday. (Albert Garcia|Manila Bulletin

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III . (Manila Bulletin file photo)

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said the Duterte administration is maintaining the implementation of the rice tariffication law contrary to reports saying the President temporarily halted the entry of imported rice into the country.

Dominguez said the deregulated rice policy was not suspended by the President, instead, the government will provide financial aid to alleviate farmers’ woes amid decelerating farm-gate price of dry palay sank.

According to President Duterte’s chief economic manager, “the grant of unconditional cash transfers to affected farmers was approved in the last Cabinet meeting.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Finance (DOF) noted the wide discrepancy between the farm-gate price and the retail price of regular milled rice in some areas last month.

Based on the DOF’s Strategy, Economics and Results Group monitoring, the average gap between the per kilo retail price of regular milled rice and farm-gate price of dry palay was at P22 in five areas.

In Iloilo, the price difference between rice and palay was at P29.75, Zamboanga del Norte at P28.50, Negros Occidental at P28.01, Kalinga at P25.33, and Bulacan at P25.25.

The DOF believes the significant gap only indicates a problem in the “middle supply chain” or traders that have kept imported rice stocks in warehouses to drive retail prices up despite abundant supply.

Dominguez, meanwhile, reiterated that the government will never repeal Republic Act 11203, or the rice rariffication law, noting the short-term “transition challenges” were now being addressed by the Duterte administration.

He said the rice tarrification law helps rice farmers to become more globally competitive, saying the government’s tariff collections are earmarked for mechanize production, cheaper financing and better training to farmers.

The finance chief believes suspending the law would only prohibit Filipino families’ access to affordable rice.

From March 5 to end-October, the Bureau of Customs already collected P11.4 billion from rice traffics, surpassing the minimum P10 billion annual budget for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).

“Filipino farmers can be as productive as those in Vietnam and Thailand if provided with the right kind of support,” Dominguez said in a statement.

The finance chief said that since the rice liberalization took effect, the grain retail prices were reduced by P8 per kilo, which also brought down the country’s headline inflation to below one percent in September and October.

Dominguez added that lower rice prices also boosted household spending that helped drive the economic growth to 6.2 percent in the July to September period.

“This is particularly helpful for low income households that spend around a fifth of their budgets on rice alone,” Dominguez said.

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