The Philippines will continue to protect rice under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which is planned for conclusion at the end of the year.
Ramon Lopez, secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry made this statement in the wake of a query from Indian traders why the Philippines imposes different tariffs on rice when it started tarrifying the commodity in the beginning of the year.
Lopez told delegates of the Philippine-India Business Consultation in Makati last Friday rice is not included in the RCEP, which means a status quo on Philippine tariffs at 35 percent for Asean as a concession, and higher for non-Asean countries.
In the case of India, which is not part of Asean, the tariff will stay at 50 percent.
He explained to the delegates rice as well as other commodities like corn and sugar remain in the sensitive list.
“We have farmers to take care of… to protect. What we did is open the market through rice tariffication. That was a step forward,” Lopez said,
But he said inclusion of rice might be the subject of negotiations in the future. But for now the commodity is not included in the discussions.
“These things can change,” he said.
Besides, Lopez noted, India is not the Philippines’ major source of rice. The major sources are from Asean, Vietnam and Thailand
Lopez later told reporters , “there is no pressure to adjust the tariff, although we have the option to include all these discussions in other) FTAs (free trade agreements, which products to include and which products to exclude.”
Meanwhile, the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture & Food Inc. (PCAFI) criticized the Department of Agriculture (DA) and government’s economic managers for abandoning the farming sector by not invoking Section 10 of the Rice Tarrification Law which allows the imposition of a special safeguard duty (SSG) on rice to protect farmers.
PCAFI also said the DA and the economic managers are misleading the public by claiming that implementing SSG is inflationary.
“This is a diversionary tactic to protect those who benefited from this law which are importers. The ones favored by this law are not consumers, much more not farmers, but importers. They’re trying to divert us from the fact that so far the importers are the beneficiaries of the law,” said Elias Jose Inciong, PCAFI director.
Inciong in a statement said government’s task under the law is to simply come up with a mechanism implementing the SSG based on either price or volume triggers.
He said if the trigger price is set at P35 per kilogram and the landed price of imported rice falls below that level, SSG should automatically be implemented.
“t is in bad faith to say it is inflationary because they can suspend the SSG anytime. That claim has no credence,” Inciong further stated.
PCAFI said indicative volume trigger of rice imports has been hit. The country only needs 1.9 million tons of imports but the volume has exceeded 3 million tons.