Stricter standards to limit rice imports

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    The Philippines will not suspend rice importation during palay harvest season but will instead impose stricter sanitary and phytosanitary standards to slow down the entry of imported rice.

    President Duterte on Wednesday or a day after he announced the planned suspension, met Agriculture Secretary William Dar , Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez to tackle the three directives that will effectively implement programs under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund.

    Dar said the President “strongly supports Filipino farmers who are confronted with low palay prices this harvest season” but clarified that the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) will still be pursued.

    Dar said the President specifically ordered the Department of Agriculture through the Bureau of Plant and Industry (BPI), to strictly implement the issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPSIC) by conducting pre-inspection at the point of origin of imported rice to ensure quality and safety from the spread of crop pests and diseases.

    In a briefing in Quezon City yesterday, Dar said strict food safety requirements had reduced the volume of rice imports to 85,000 tons in October from a monthly average of 254,000 tons in the first nine months of the year.

    BPI assistant director Glenn Panganiban said the DA will study the possibility of granting SPSICs with limited validity period since only 60 percent of the 3,000 SPSICs issued have been utilized.

    The DA said the National Food Authority was also asked to increase the country’s emergency buffer stock from 15 to 30 days by buying more palay from farmers. The food agency also accelerated the turnover of its inventory at an average of 20,000 50-kilogram bags or more of rice per day.

    Dar said the President also ordered the extension of the unconditional cash transfer for small farmers affected by low palay prices from one year to two years, with a budget of P3 billion per year for the benefit of 600,000 farmers, tilling one-half to two hectares of rice land.

    Meanwhile, the Department of Finance (DOF) said it is coordinating with the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) to look into hoarding as the possible reason for the widening gap between farm gate prices for paddy and rice retail prices in specific provinces.

    “It looks like it (hoarding). We’re consulting with the PCC on that. That’s their main function. If you just look at the numbers, it looks like the raw material is dropping but the final material is not so something must be going on,” Dominguez told reporters on the sidelines of the inspection of the New Clark City Sports Complex yesterday.

    “The trend should be the same. The rate of drop should be the same. If your raw material is dropping by 10 percent per year, the final product should more or less reflect that. But it seems it is not being reflected, so somebody must be intervening in the market,” he added.

    The DOF previously said the gap between the per kilo retail price of regular milled rice and farmgate price of dry palay is widest in the provinces of Iloilo (P29.75), Zamboanga del Norte (P28.50), Negros Occidental (P28.01), Kalinga (P25.33) and Bulacan (P25.25).

    At present, the average gap is around P22, as average retail price is P37.51 per kilo compared to dry palay farmgate average price of P15.71 per kilo.

    The Philippines has imported 2.9 million tons this year, more than double the annual average in recent years and dislodging China from the top spot among importers after the RTL was passed.

    Based on Rule 6.1 of the RTL, the President can adjust the tariffs on rice when Congress is not in session and cannot suspend it. (with A. Celis)