Delay on rice safeguard measures to worsen crisis, farmers’ group says
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - October 10, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The current situation of the rice industry is expected to worsen unless the Department of Agriculture finally decides on whether or not it will impose safeguard measures amid the deluge of imports that dampened local palay prices.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar has yet to decide on the matter even if the deadline set by the law is today.

“We are discussing it. No comment yet,” Dar’s short response to reporters during the DA budget hearing on Wednesday.

The Federation of Free Farmers, however, warned that the more the DA delays the decision, the more serious the situation will become.

“Imports continue to come in, farmers are suffering not only in terms of low prices, but also the decision of many traders to stop or phase down their buying because they also cannot unload their stocks in the market,” FFF national manager Raul Montemayor told The STAR.

“I think DA has to act fast and resolutely; otherwise, it will be too late,” he said.

The law says the DA secretary must make a preliminary determination not later than 30 days from the motu proprio initiation of an investigation.

The initiation was done last Sept. 9. The determination could be negative, in which case the investigation ends. Or, it could be positive in which case the DA secretary transfers the case to the Tariff Commission.

“Together with this transfer to the TC, the secretary has the option to impose the provisional safeguard measure if he deems it necessary,” Montemayor said.

Since the Rice Tariffication Law took effect, the Philippines has already imported more than two million metric tons of rice, causing palay prices to plummet in most parts of the country.

“More imports are coming in, another one million MT have been issued already but have yet to arrive, larger glut in the market, limited outlets for fresh harvests of farmers, lower palay prices,” Montemayor said.

Under the rules of the World Trade Organization and the Safeguard Measures Act, the government can impose general safeguard duties on imports of rice on top of regular tariffs if imports are found to have caused, or threaten to cause, injuries to rice farmers.

Dar has initiated an investigation to determine if the imposition of the additional duties is warranted, and has the option to impose a provisional duty that can be in effect for a maximum of 200 days.

The TC will then conduct its own investigation within 60 to 120 days to determine whether the provisional duty should be retained, amended or removed.

Total rice imports as of September have reached 20 percent of the total rice requirement of the country for 2019, but the Philippines only need 10 percent of imports, at most.

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