Gov’t sets probe on rice profiteering, smuggling

    Stark contrast. The farmgate price of palay has slumped to an 8-year low at P15 per kilo since the implementation of the Rice Tarrification Law.
    Stark contrast. The farmgate price of palay has slumped to an 8-year low at P15 per kilo since the implementation of the Rice Tarrification Law.

    The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) plans to import rice for the direct use of restaurants and fastfood chains to help bring down the price of the grain amid its own investigation of possible profiteering in the staple’s market.

    Ramon Lopez, DTI secretary, said the Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau (FTEB) two weeks ago launched its investigation of profiteering in the market as prices of imported rice have not gone down as fast as they should.

    Meanwhile, Carlos Dominguez, secretary of the Department DOF) said government is closely monitoring possible distortions in the market, particularly the widening gap between farm gate prices for paddy and rice retail prices in specific provinces.

    Both the Bureaus of Internal Revenue (BIR) and of Customs (BOC) have formed strike teams to run after possible smuggling, hoarding and non-compliance with tax and business regulations by unscrupulous traders.

    Lopez said the price of rice has dropped by P8 since the liberalization of importation earlier this year. The target is to bring down the price to P27.

    “(Imported) rice should have gone down to P33 to P36 (per kg). We are seeing some at P37 and P38 but there are still those priced at P42 to P45,” Lopez told reporters at the sidelines of the 11th World Rice Conference in Makati City.

    For regular-milled rice, Lopez said the price is at P32 per kg. but others are sold P28.

    “Based on importation, the realistic price is in that level of P33 to P36 at retail,” Lopez added.

    Lopez said FTEB is going around the country to check all data in the entire value chain from importers, traders and retailers and identify the possible price gaps.

    He said he welcomes the investigation of the Philippine Competition Commission as well as other groups of possible market abuses in rice trade.

    Lopez said the agency’s trading arm, the Philippine International Trading Corp. will undertake the importation of as much as 300 containers per month two to three months after the initial shipment of one container.

    One 20-foot container can hold as much as a ton of rice.

    The volumes will be auctioned off.

    Lopez hopes to create pressure in the market for those in the value chain to bring down the prices of imported well-milled rice to an ideal range of P33 to P36 per kilogram (kg.) at retail.

    “We are going to pilot this. PITC will consolidate the importation for restaurants and even for small grocery stores which cannot import their own. These establishment will purchase the imports, instead of buying from traders. This will not be for (consumer use) and will keep pressure to bring down prices…. And consumers will have an option,” Lopez said.

    In his speech in the same conference, Dominguez said: “Over the next months,  we see anti-smuggling and anti-hoarding activities to intensify as the Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Competition Commission investigate possible collusion to undermine the market. President Duterte has issued clear instructions to unmask and prosecute those involved in economic sabotage and bring them to justice.” (I. Isip,A. Celis)