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High inflation and cheap adequate food on the table

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - April 22, 2021 - 12:00am

Oil is back from negative territory. As mass vaccinations roll out in the US and Europe, and with China’s economy surging ahead on an 18.3 percent growth during the first quarter of the year, crude oil prices are once again on the rise.

Storage facilities are reporting new drawdowns in crude stocks and the more recent futures trading is definitely pointing to crude price levels breaching pre-pandemic levels as the rest of the world’s big economies reopen with more confidence.

The upward jolt in global economic activities is sure to put oil back in play when measuring inflation, even if only in the few months ahead. Especially for countries like the Philippines, which is almost totally reliant on imported fuels, this is bad news.

As our manufacturing sector continues to be hobbled by the virus and quarantine measures, the rebound in international oil prices will likely bring about higher transportation and mobility costs in Filipinos’ daily spending.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has already warned that rising global oil prices will drive inflation beyond the targeted two to four percent range for the whole year. For this reason alone, the country needs to manage its food prices with hawkeye focus.

Not an easy route

Currently, high local pork prices due to the unabated African swine flu (ASF) pandemic has been the biggest factor in the Philippines’s elevated inflation numbers since six months ago. The simple solution should be to open our doors to more pork imports.

Bringing in imported pork to augment culled local stocks, which incidentally may take longer to restock, is not as easy as it may seem. After a half year of consultations and investigations, the President signed Executive Order No. 128 two weeks ago – to much furor from our lawmakers.

No less than Senate President Vicente Sotto III has led a phalanx of senators and representatives demanding the President to rescind EO 128, even threatening that Congress would reverse this decision after it resumes session on May 17.

It’s amusing to see Sotto raging mad in accusing the “unseen hand” that did nothing to stop the ASF from spreading in hog farms, but is seemingly nonchalant about finding who to blame for the spread of the novel coronavirus early last year that has claimed more than 16,000 human – not pig – lives.

More than six months now from when the ASF contagion erupted into a crisis, the culling continues and hog farms are unable to restart operations because the infections are not contained. Our biosecurity system obviously needs honing – and government funding – to be effective.

High demand for pork

Filipinos love their pork and no better proof of this is its continued high demand despite now being twice as costly, almost as expensive as beef. Apparently, threats of a pork holiday and substitution to the less expensive chicken are not happening.

Until the first shipments of frozen imported and cheaper pork arrive at wet markets equipped with cold storage facilities, pork lovers will not see current high prices abating to the old levels of P250 per kilo. An increased household food budget is definitely a strain.

If the country saw a slight decline in inflation last month to 4.5 percent from 4.7 percent in February, thank that to a bountiful harvest of agricultural produce (except pork, of course) because of good weather and some luck.

Note that many of the sprouting community pantries (now mired in unwarranted policing and politicking) share plenty of vegetables and sweet potato tubers, the latter I heard at farmgate prices now considered at one of its historic lows.

Let’s all hope that we get through this year and next couple of years (until this pandemic is over) without any devastating storms and natural calamities. Cheap food on the table is our beleaguered countrymen’s best hedge to survive malnutrition and hunger.

Thus, our government’s all-out effort must be to keep inflation down and protect food security. EO 128 will not spell the death of the local swine industry, but may instead provide a breathing space for those affected by ASF to adopt their own biosecurity measures and restock their farms.

Our lawmakers must reexamine their priorities at a time when the whole of government has demonstrated just how inutile it can get towards keeping this virus in check, either by keeping quarantines short and effective to allow the economy to reopen safely or by racing to herd immunity through a vaccination rollout for 70 percent of the population.

If our beloved senators and representatives cannot offer a better solution to lowering pork prices and keeping normal supply levels, their next best move is to withdraw their threats to rescind EO 128, which by the way, is a measure that is time-bound, i.e., until the end of the year.

Vaccine hesitancy

News of companies importing vaccines, mostly the “preferred” brands that have shown the best efficacy, is like a warm ray of sunlight on an otherwise dark and cold landscape. It would definitely serve well for our working population who need the added protection to carry on with their jobs.

As a senior, but still part of the working sector, I could describe myself at best as a vaccine jab procrastinator, definitely not a staunch anti-vaxxer. If I needed to have a vaccine passport to be able to travel abroad, I’d dutifully comply with all requirements demanded by the destination country, including the brand of vaccine.

Until then or when I find myself finally cornered to line up for my shot, I wish all of us to keep safe.

We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends, and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25thFloor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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