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Duterte orders more funds, pork imports to fight African swine fever
A display of pork meat for sale at Commonwealth Market in Quezon City on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.
The STAR/Boy Santos, file

Duterte orders more funds, pork imports to fight African swine fever

Ramon Royandoyan (Philstar.com) - May 11, 2021 - 3:45pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte unleashed on Tuesday a twin fix of additional funds and imports to the prolonged pork epidemic that drastically reduced supplies, stoked inflation and threatened to derail the economy from its recovery path.

First, Duterte issued Proclamation No. 1143 that declared a “state of calamity” nationwide due to the 2-year-old African swine fever (ASF). The issuance will free up billions of pesos in public funds not only for state agencies but also for cities and provinces at the forefront of the epidemic fight.

At the national level, calamity funds with remaining balance of P10.93 billion as of April may now be accessed and so do their counterpart funding in cities and municipalities for interventions like purchasing piglets to repopulate the swine sector as well as treatment for infected pigs.

Apart from more funds, Duterte also authorized larger pork imports under a new Executive Order (EO) No. 133. The EO hikes quantity limits in shipments by 200,000 metric tons from existing 54,210 MT, under which imports will get charged a lower tariff. Traders may choose to bring in more but would have to pay a higher levy to do so.

The latest EO was actually only an amendment to his EO 128 that prescribed a heftier 400,000 MT increase in minimum access volume (MAV). That did not sit well with senators who sparred with economic managers over the plan, until such time they reached a compromise of adding only half of the administration’s original proposal.

Senators, who can overturn Duterte’s EO through a resolution with the Lower House, also won concessions on the tariff level: whereas the Executive branch wanted them down to as much as 5% for imports within the quota, the deal was to set the minimum at double that rate at 10%, rising to 15% for out-of-quota shipments.

Interestingly, Duterte’s latest EO did not tinker with the tariffs to effect the deal with the upper chamber. Doing so would be crucial in two fronts: first, honoring the agreement with a co-equal branch, and second, incentivizing more pork imports to come in and replenish supplies so that retail prices of the country’s main protein source finally go down.

Government officials have not responded to request for comment as of this posting. Nonetheless, pork traders already welcomed Duterte’s latest actions with hopes for a “meaningful impact” on the market.

“Five and a half months later, the ASF fire has not been put out and is still burning,” Jess Cham, president of the Meat Importers and Traders Association, an industry group, said in a text message. “We hope this will be enough…The country is still losing production capacity.”

Meanwhile, while they welcome the declaration of state of calamity, Edwin Chen, president of the Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines, a group of hog raisers, castigated the government for relying on imports to resolve the pork shortages, even if such a fix was only intended to be temporary.

“I think the DA (Department of Agriculture) is sending a wrong signal to the industry by proposing MAV expansion and lowering of tariff which were not consulted with the sector,” Chen said in a text message.

“DA is not sending a strong support for the local agriculture but more on import liberalization...that (runs) counter (to) repopulation," he added.

AFRICAN SWINE FEVER PHILIPPINE INFLATION
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