Last-ditch effort vs lower rice tariffs pushed

Jasper Arcalas - The Philippine Star
Last-ditch effort vs lower rice tariffs pushed
Photos show workers unloading sacks of rice from a truck along Dagupan St. in Manila on February 7, 2024.
STAR / Ernie Penaredondo

MANILA, Philippines — Industry groups are racing against time to convince President Marcos to reverse his decision to slash rice tariffs to 15 percent, the lowest rate in the country’s history.

Leonardo Montemayor, a former agriculture secretary, said farmers groups are trying their best to secure a face-to-face audience with Marcos to air their concerns regarding the tariff reduction.

They hope to convince him against lowering the tariffs before he issues an executive order (EO) to implement the country’s new comprehensive tariff program.

Montemayor and other leaders of agricultural groups have been meeting with Cabinet secretaries to discuss the decision of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board, chaired by Marcos, to lower rice tariffs to 15 percent from 35 percent at present.

The latest dialogue that they had was with Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel in a meeting last week.

Sources told The STAR that the stakeholders sought Tiu Laurel’s help in seeking an audience with Marcos.

They also also met with Finance Secretary Ralph Recto to discuss the issue earlier this month.

“We will do our best to appeal to the President [and have a] face-to-face meeting [with him],” Montemayor said.

“We feel the president was shortchanged. He was not given the entire picture. We owe it to him also before he makes the final decision,” he added.

The former agriculture secretary is cognizant that the clock is ticking for them to convince Marcos not to lower the rice tariffs through an EO.

“We have roughly about a month and one week,” Montemayor said, referring to the remaining time that Marcos can issue an EO to modify tariff rates while the Congress is not in session.

Congress is in recess until July 21 and would resume session on July 22.

Today, another industry group, the Philippine Rice Industry Stakeholders Movement (PRISM) would hold a three-hour forum in Nueva Ecija to form a “balanced” proposal regarding the approved comprehensive tariff program.

PRISM is a group composed of various players of the rice value chain from farmers to millers and importers formed at the height of the deliberation of the government on the rice tariffication law in 2019.

The reduction in rice tariffs is part of the country’s new comprehensive tariff program for 2024 to 2028.

It was meant to lower the price of rice in the country but farmers groups said reduced rice tariffs only led to more imports and higher prices.

Last week, a NEDA official said there is still no EO yet that has been signed or issued by Marcos to formalize the new tariff program.

Seeking a reversal of the possible EO through a Congressional resolution is also one of the options that stakeholders are considering, Montemayor said.

But Montemayor understands that having it reversed through legislative intervention could be an uphill battle given the influence of the executive branch on lawmakers.

The power to modify the country’s tariffs is given to the House of Representatives under the constitution. That is why the President can only exercise his power to adjust tariff rates when Congress is in recess.

Once it resumes session, Congress can withdraw or terminate through a joint resolution the tariff adjustments made by the Chief Executive through his EO, according to the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act.

At present, rice imports are levied with a 35 percent tariff by virtue of Marcos’ earlier EO 50 which extended reduced rates on key agricultural commodities to arrest rising food prices in the country.

Without the EO, rice imports have a tariff level of 40 percent for shipments inside the minimum access volume while shipments outside it are levied with 50 percent tariff.

However, all rice imports from the Asean trade-partners are slapped with a 35 percent tariff as part of the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement.

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