DA told to control rice imports
During the DA’s 2021 budget hearing Monday, senators made a general manifestation asking the DA not to issue permits for certain commodities, including rice, so as not to affect local industries.
Michael Varcas, file
DA told to control rice imports
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - October 20, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers called on the Department of Agriculture anew to stop issuing rice import permits during harvest season to avoid a further drop in palay (unhusked rice) farmgate prices.

During the DA’s 2021 budget hearing Monday, senators made a general manifestation asking the DA not to issue permits for certain commodities, including rice, so as not to affect local industries.

“That’s already common sense during harvest season. You [DA] can always choose and make a schedule that when the arrival of imports will coincide with harvest, you do not issue permits,” Sen. Cynthia Villar said.

Apart from rice, Senators Imee Marcos, Nancy Binay, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan and Juan Miguel Zubiri also called for import scheduling and staggering based on the need of corn, feed wheat, poultry and fish.

“If you are really decided, you can control that for the sake of small farmers. Do not tell me you cannot control your BPI (Bureau of Plant Industry) from issuing permits,” said Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food.

BPI is the attached agency of the DA mandated to issue sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance for traders and importers.

For his part, Agriculture Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan said the DA is already exploring measures for the strict issuance of permits including pest risk analysis, maximum residue level, checking on the country of origin and even the financial capability of the importers.

“We are also talking with our traders for them to patronize our local produce. The only way for us not to issue permits is for them not to apply,” he said.

Further, Villar dismissed the idea of imposing safeguard measures or additional tariffs as a way to keep palay prices stable.

The Federation of Free Farmers earlier sought for the Safeguard Measures Act which would allow additional safeguard duties on top of regular tariffs in case an import surge is shown to be harmful to local farmers.

“If it had instead imposed additional duties on imports, palay prices would not have dropped too much, there would have been no need for cash aid to farmers, and the government might have even earned extra revenues from the safeguard duties,” FFF said.

However, Villar said imposing safeguard duties is a long process and would have a huge implication on the economy.

The government has already warned that doing so would likely increase retail prices of rice to the detriment of consumers.

“Safeguard duties will not be inflationary as claimed by the DA, because they will be applied only when there is already a proven oversupply in the market. They can be removed once the situation stabilizes,” FFF countered.

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