Stakeholders question rice pact with Vietnam

Danessa Rivera - The Philippine Star
Stakeholders question rice pact with Vietnam
Local premium rice is stored at a warehouse in Bocaue, Bulacan yesterday. Millers say the high price of rice resulted in low orders from retailers, and they expect an other loss from their premium rice stocks as the harvest nears.
Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Rice stakeholders are questioning the five-year rice supply deal proposed by Vietnam and its impact on the Philippines’ goal of reaching near-self-sufficiency and plan to diversify sources.

During the 43rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and related summits in Jakarta, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh offered a rice supply deal to President Marcos, whose administration is dealing with rice price spikes.

But stakeholders are in agreement that the Philippine government must scrutinize the offer first before accepting the deal.

“We will need to see the terms of that agreement first. While it may guarantee us supply, we might commit ourselves to volumes or price levels that will not be favorable to us in the future,” Federation of Free Farmers national manager Raul Montemayor said in a text message.

Details such as price, volume and tariff rate need to be sorted out to ensure the local rice sector will not be gravely affected, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura executive director Jayson Cainglet said.

“We do not have a rice shortage at the moment nor in the immediate future. There is no need to rush or make secret these transactions that may do worse for our agriculture sector,” he said.

Instead of just sticking to Vietnam, Montemayor urged the Philippine government to diversify sources of rice.

“On our side, there is a need to diversify our sources, just in case Vietnam suffers production problems, especially with the siltation and saline intrusion problem in the Mekong River and the plans of China to build dams upstream which can divert water away from the Mekong,” Montemayor said. “Maybe we should develop ties with Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia and use them as leverage against Vietnam.”

Meanwhile, instead of importing the food staple, the Marcos administration should push programs for higher rice production, especially with the government’s goal of reaching 97.5 percent rice self-sufficiency by 2027.

“The government should have a concrete program on how to deal with the effects of El Niño and how to boost local production so that the country does not always rely on rice imports,” Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said in Filipino.

Compliance for 1 week

Rice retailers will comply with Executive Order No. 39 for one week and will decide on their move on the price ceiling mandating P41 and P45 per kilo of rice, rice retailers’ group Grains Retailers Confederation of the Philippines (GRECON) said on Friday.

“The response of the retailers was positive. They will follow, support (the price ceiling) but until when the retailers can provide help? I told them, let’s comply and after a week, if we cannot really afford (to shoulder the losses), we will convey to the government that this is what we can afford,” GRECON national president James Magbanua said in a radio interview.

During the consultation, Philippine Rice Industry Stakeholders Movement co-founder and GRECON national spokesman Orly Manuntag said that a retailer will lose at least P49,000 in just one week of the implementation of price cap.

Magbanua also supported the position of Manuntag that a retailer loses P5 per kilo of well-milled rice sold at P45 per kilo. He added that rice retailers would monitor the actual happening on the ground before they meet again for their next action.

Sari-sari to get subsidy

Even sari-sari stores located outside of wet markets and public markets are now eligible for a P5,000 Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP)  subsidy, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Rex Gatchalian said as the department begins distribution of subsidies for rice retailers affected by the price cap.

“Unlicensed rice retailers and sari-sari store owners selling rice are also included in the SLP payout which is in line with the President’s directive that the list of beneficiaries should be inclusive,” he added.

Gatchalian announced the distribution of P15,000 payout to small and micro rice retailers starting today in Quezon City, Caloocan, Manila and San Juan. — Bella Cariaso, Sheila Crisostomo

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