Import again?

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    The government would consider the importation of vegetables and other agricultural products if prices continue to go up and inflation further worsens, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday.

    Roque lamented the fact inflation worsened to 3.3 percent in November from 2.5 percent in October but said this is still within the 2 to 4 percent inflation range set by the government.
    He said the high prices of food due to the recent typhoons and the limited transportation pushed up inflation last month.

    “If we need to import to bring down the prices of food, we would do it,” he said.

    Roque assured local farmers and traders government will find a balance between keeping the prices at an affordable level and ensuring reasonable incomes to farmers.

    No to imports

    This early, groups have expressed dismay to government’s planned importation.

    Raul Montemayor, national manager of the Federation of Free Farmers, said importation is “a lazy man’s quick fix” to solve the problem and contradicts the Department of Agriculture’s policy of importing only if there is local shortage.

    “The government should instead help vegetable and other farmers recover as fast as possible from the calamities so they can start supplying the markets again. Importing will just remove the financial incentive for them to work hard and will subject the farmers to another calamity of depressed prices when harvest time comes,” Montemayor said.

    He added government should also fix bottlenecks in the distribution system so that farm products can reach consumers on time.

    “I understand sometimes we might need to import to address immediate problems but this should always be coupled with more proactive solutions that help and support our farmers,” he added.

    Vic Dimagiba, president of Laban Konsyumer Inc. (LKI) also do not agree with the government’s plan saying there is enough supply from local suppliers.

    “What is needed is discipline in the supply chain. (Agriculture) Secretary (William) Dar said he had asked the Philippine Competition Commission to investigate (this),” Dimagiba said.

    He added based on LKI’s research in a major public market in Quezon City for two consecutive Sundays, food items such as pork kasim, pork liempo, chicken, bangus, tilapia, ampalaya, pechay, onion, calamansi and tomato are still overpriced despite the prevailing price freeze and the imposition of suggested retail prices.

    Separate department

    Meanwhile, agriculture advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan urges Congress to fast track deliberations on the proposed creation of a separate department on fisheries and aquatic resources.

    Asis Perez, Tugon Kabuhayan convenor, said in virtual briefing yesterday at least 19 proposals in Congress and three from the Senate pushing for the creation of a separate department by combining all existing attached agencies and bureaus involved in the industry.

    “Unlike the creation of other departments, putting up a Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR) will not need much additional budgetary requirements since there are existing personnel, buildings and structure. We will be able to determine actual budgetary requirements in our next meetings but right now, we see that it will not need more than P2 billion on top of the existing budget (of P10 billion already) allocated for fisheries programs,” Perez said. (with J. Macapagal)