Stricter requirements, but no rice import ban – agriculture chief

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippine government will enforce stricter rice import requirements, as local farmers feel the pinch of the rice tariffication law, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a briefing on Thursday, November 21.

Dar clarified that President Rodrigo Duterte's order to restrict rice imports does not mean the suspension of the controversial law. He said Duterte only wants to strictly enforce guidelines on importation.

Dar met with the President on Wednesday night, November 20, together with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, over the matter.

Dar said the Department of Agriculture, through the Bureau of Plant Industry, would be more strict in issuing sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances. This means that the government will be more meticulous in looking at aspects of the rice imports, such as chemical content and presence of pests, among others.

"The agency will conduct a pre-inspection at the point of origin of imported rice to ensure rice quality and safety for Filipino consumers and at the same time [prevent the] spread of crop pest and diseases," Dar said.

He added that the agencies will be even more stringent in issuing permits during harvest season.

To further protect farmers from tough market competition, Duterte has ordered the National Food Authority (NFA) to buy more palay from farmers and increase the country's emergency buffer stock from 15 days to 30 days. (READ: What you can do to help Filipino rice farmers)

"NFA will accelerate the turnover of its inventory by buying more palay and selling more milled rice by an average of 20,000 bags or more a day," Dar said.

Moreover, unconditional cash transfers – previously frowned upon by the government's economic team – will be extended for two years with a budget of P3 billion a year.

Some 600,000 farmers tilling at most two hectares of land will receive P5,000 each. The funds will be sourced from the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, which is specified under the rice tariffication law.

Despite calls to repeal or suspend the law as palay farmgate prices have fallen to an 8-year low, Dar said it should be given a "chance to work."

 

Meanwhile, the Makati Business Club said it supports to decision of Duterte and his economic team "to maintain the rice liberalization policy even as they help farmers by improving mitigation measures and investigating reports of hoarding."

"We and other business groups are ready to assist the government with those," the MBC said.

"Together with other business groups, we applauded the administration’s success in enacting the long-advocated Rice Tariffication Law earlier this year, benefitting most Filipinos with prices dropping as much as 20%. We will seek ways to help the rice farmers who have experienced its negative effects," the business group added. – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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