The Philippine Star
‘Letting economic team decide on rice safeguards a waste of time’
Allowing the country’s economic team to decide anew on the fate of the farmers is a complete waste of time after the Department of Agriculture terminated the imposition of safeguard measures on rice imports.
The Federation of Free Farmers has expressed apprehension and doubts that the Economic Development Cluster will approve the imposition of safeguard measures on rice imports.
The group said Agriculture Secretary William Dar has already terminated the study on the possibility of tapping general safeguard duties pending consultation with the economic managers amid the deluge of cheap imports that dampen local prices.
“The economic managers were the primary proponents of the rice liberalization law and have frowned upon any government intervention in the rice market,” FFF national president Ruben Presilda said.
“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. Tossing the issue to the EDC is an exercise in futility and a waste of time,” he added.
The FFF maintained that the decision of the DA to terminate its investigation and defer a final decision until the EDC meets runs counter to President Duterte’s public instructions not to allow imports during harvest time.
Legally, the President cannot just ban imports because the reimposition of quantitative restrictions on imports is disallowed by the Rice Tariffication Law.
But the Safeguard Measures Act provides a legal avenue for following his instructions because if safeguard duties are set to a level high enough to discourage further imports, then the imports will stop.
The safeguard duties can then be removed or reduced after the harvest season.
Under the rules of the World Trade Organization and the Safeguard Measures Act, the government can impose general safeguard duties on imports of rice on top of regular tariffs if imports are found to have caused, or threaten to cause, injuries to rice farmers.
Further, FFF national manager Raul Montemayor said there seems to be no sense of urgency and no appreciation on the serious difficulties that rice farmers are facing at present because of the surge of cheap rice imports.
“The rules on general safeguard duties were designed by the WTO 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.
The EDC is chaired by the Department of Finance. Apart from DA, other members include the departments of Trade and Industry, Budget and Management, Public Works and Highways, Transportation, Energy, Science and Technology, Tourism, Interior and Local Government, and the National Economic and Development Authority.
Since the Rice Tariffication Law took effect, the Philippines has already imported more than two million metric tons of rice causing palay prices to plummet in most parts of the country.
Total rice imports as of September have reached 20 percent of the total rice requirement of the country for 2019, but the Philippines only need 10 percent of imports, at most.