By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The House Committee on Agriculture and Food has passed a bill seeking to replace the quantitative import restrictions on rice with tariffs to protect the welfare of the country’s rice farmers and at the same time, uphold the country’s commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The House panel, chaired by ANAC-IP party list Rep. Jose Panganiban, Jr. unanimously approved the substitute bill, a consolidation of seven measures, to amend Republic Act No. 8178, as amended, and adopt the use of tariffs in lieu of non-tariff restrictions on rice.
“The bill will be referred to the Committee on Ways and Means for its review of the bill’s tax provision ” Panganiban said.
The substitute bill mandates the National Food Authority (NFA) to only undertake the direct importation of rice for the purpose of ensuring food security and maintaining sufficient national buffer stocks.
“However, for importation other than maintaining buffer stocks, the NFA shall issue import permits among certified and licensed importers,” according to the measure.
It tasks the NFA to provide guidelines for the exportation of rice and corn by certified and licensed exporters.
Panganiban explained that the minimum access volume (MAV) will revert to its 2012 level at 350,000 metric tons (MT) as indicated in the country’s commitment to the WTO, when the proposed Act takes effect.
“The bound rate for rice imported into the country shall be set as follows: 35 percent for rice importations originating from ASEAN member-states, in consonance with the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA); 40 percent MFN rate for importation within the 350,000 MT MAV from Non-ASEAN WTO member countries; and 25 percent MFN out quota rate,” he said.
The bill grants power and authority to the President of the Philippines to adjust the existing rates of import duty and regulate rice imports subject to the following circumstances: In the interest of the general welfare and national security, upon the recommendation of the NFA Council, may increase, reduce, revise or adjust existing rates of import duty, including any necessary change in classification, applicable to the importation of rice; and whenever there is shortage in the supply of rice and there is an urgent need to act, as certified by the NFA Council.
The bill also authorizes the President to impose temporary regulations or restrictions on the volume of imports of rice for a temporary period to protect the Philippine rice industry from sudden or extreme price fluctuations and/or unexpected surges of import of the volume of rice. The imposition of rice safeguard tariff sufficient in level to address the situation is proposed under the bill.
The President, in the interest of the Philippine rice industry and the Filipino consumers, may enter into trade negotiations relating to the bound or maximum rates in relation to rice, the bill said.
The measure also calls for the creation of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund or the “Rice Fund”.
It shall be allocated and disbursed as follows: 20 percent of which shall be utilized for the establishment of a permanent rice endowment fund; another 20 percent for credit subsidy and/or grants in kind to individual eligible small scale farmers and registered rice cooperatives in the form of small farm equipment; another 20 percent for a special program of crop loans, farm inputs, crop insurance, loan guarantees, and other financial assistance to farmers and farm workers; another 20 percent for post harvest facilities, logistics, storage, transportation facilities, and infrastructure projects; 10 percent for grants for rice farmers, education, scholarships, technical and vocational training of farmers and their dependents; and another 10 percent for research and development and extension.
The Rice Fund shall consist of all duties collected from the importation of rice under the proposed Act and shall be automatically credited to a Special Account in the General Fund of the National Treasury.
Benefitting from the Rice Fund shall be those farmers and farm workers and their dependents listed in the registry system for basic sectors in agriculture (RSBSA).
Authors of the bill include Reps. Peter Unabia (1st District, Misamis Oriental), Arthur Yap (3rd District, Bohol), Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2nd District, Pampanga), Cecilia Leonila Chavez (Party-list, BUTIL), Jose Panganiban Jr. (Party-list, ANAC-IP), Sharon Garin (AAMBIS-OWA), and Rico Geron (Party-list, AGAP).