The Philippine Star

‘Let­ting eco­nomic team de­cide on rice safe­guards a waste of time’

- Louise Mau­reen Simeon Agriculture · Industries · World Trade Organization · Philippines Department of Finance · National Economic and Development Authority · Philippines

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.

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