Farmers group balk at DA’s backpedalling

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    The Department of Agriculture (DA) came under fire from a farmers group after the agency backtracked from a plan to impose safeguard duties on rice imports.

    DA Secretary William Dar last week said the agency has terminated the  preliminary safeguard investigation for the imposition of safeguard duties and decided to “actively discuss it with the economic development managers on October 24.”

    Dar declined to provide the findings of the study that the investigation has initially arrived at.

    Raul Montemayor, national manager of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) in a statement said given the urgency of the problem, the DA should have consulted the economic managers on the matter early on.

    FFF expressed doubts the economic managers will look favorably on the imposition of safeguard measures on rice imports since they were the primary proponents of rice liberalization.

    “(The economic managers) have frowned upon any government intervention in the rice market. They have repeatedly alluded to the suffering of farmers as mere birth pains and have argued that the benefit of the law to the consumers far outweighs the losses of farmers…,” Montemayor said.

    He added: “there seems to be no sense of urgency and no appreciation of the serious difficulties that rice farmers are facing at present because of the surge of cheap rice imports.”

    Montemayor added the rules on general safeguard duties were designed by the World Trade Organization precisely to allow governments to quickly and effectively address market emergencies brought about by trade liberalization.

    “Delaying a decision defeats the purpose of the law, and may make the harm on farmers irreparable,” Montemayor said.

    FFF said President Duterte cannot ban imports as the imposition of quantitative restrictions is not allowed by the Rice Liberalization Law.

    But Montemayor said the Safeguard Measures Act can provide a legal avenue to set high duties during the harvest season to discourage further imports during the period.
    FFF also said that the imposition of safeguard duties will not result in higher prices of rice for consumers if the Department of Trade and Industry can discipline traders and retailers as there is already enough inventory in the country of cheap imported rice to last us up to next year.

    “Prices of imported rice should not go up because nobody will import at the high tariff plus you have the main harvests coming into the market this October to December,” Montemayor said.

    The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture & Food Inc. earlier pushed for the imposition of at least 70 percent tariff on rice from the current 35 percent made through the safeguards provision.