Cabinet execs disagree with proposed zero tariff on some agri imports

Cabinet execs disagree with proposed zero tariff on some agri imports
Buyers at a vegetables stall inside the Commonwealth Public Market on Aug. 1, 2018.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Cabinet members are against the proposal to reduce to zero the tariff on some agriculture products because of its possible adverse effect on local producers, Malacañang said Thursday. 

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda previously claimed that President Rodrigo Duterte would issue an executive order imposing a zero tariff on imported fish, corn and vegetables and feed wheat to rein in inflation. 

Salceda said the EO would be released after Congress goes on an 11-day break next weekend. The adjustment of tariff on some imported goods was one of the counter-inflation measures proposed by Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other House leaders who met with Duterte's economic team last week. 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said no Cabinet member supports the zero tariff proposal, which is expected to flood the market with imported goods.

"I do not know the source of Congressman Salceda's information. But what I know is there are discussions and there are different opinions. (Agriculture) Secretary (Emmanuel) Piñol says, it’s going to be war with domestic agricultural producers. And nobody is advocating zero in the Cabinet right now," Roque said in a press briefing. 

"I verified from the economic team, they listened to the suggestion of former President GMA and Speaker GMA. But no one actually agreed that it should be done. So there's a possibility of reducing tariffs but no one in the Cabinet has told me that they will actually endorse zero tariffs," he added. 

Roque cited the need to balance the need to lower inflation and to protect local producers. 

"I think (Trade) Secretary (Ramon) Lopez had a balanced view. Tariffs may be lowered but they cannot be removed," the presidential spokesman said. 

Asked about the chances of a zero tariff EO being released, Roque replied: "What I know is no one is saying that there will be zero tariff. But the lowering of tariff is possible." 

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said in a recent Senate hearing that an EO reducing the tariff on certain agricultural products and imposing a tariff on rice is being readied. 

Inflation or the rate at which the prices of goods and services is rising, hit 5.7 percent in July, higher than 5.2 percent in June and the fastest in over five years because of higher food and transport costs.

Year-to-date inflation averaged 4.5 percent, higher than the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas' two to four percent target. — Alexis Romero

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