By Madelaine Miraflor
Amid the passage of the Rice Tariffication Bill, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol already set aside his “fears” and said he will make sure the agriculture sector will “survive” the anticipated entry of more imported rice in the local market.
“The signing into law of the Rice Liberalization and Tariffication Measure which would open the Philippine market to imported rice has resulted in shockwaves now being felt the rice industry stakeholders,” Piñol said in his recent Facebook post.
But he also said the sector should “prevail” even if he is not too comfortable with the measure.
The liberalization of rice importation is seen to dampen the local production of rice because of the gap between the prices of imported and locally produced rice.
Right now, the cost of producing rice in the Philippines stands at P12 per kilo, which is more than half of the production cost of rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand.
The original intention of the Rice Tariffication Bill is only to remove the volume restrictions on rice imports and replace them with tariffs as required by the country’s commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
But lawmakers also decided to remove the regulatory functions of the National Food Authority (NFA).
“This measure was opposed by the rice industry stakeholders because of fears that it could lead to a chaotic rice trading. I shared the same view and expressed my opposition to this measure both publicly and officially in position papers submitted by the DA,” Piñol said.
“We were overruled by the economic managers. The Senate abandoned the version of the Lower House on Rice Tariffication and embraced an all-encompassing Rice Liberalization version. I will be lying if I say that I feel comfortable with the measure. The truth is just like the rice farmers, I have my misgiving and fears,” he added.
Under the Rice Tariffication Bill, one does not need to get an import permit from the NFA to be able to bring in imported rice.
Despite this, Piñol said that as part of the government, the Department of Agriculture (DA) must do its part to ensure that the law is implemented well.
“I have to throw my fears and misgivings to the backseat and perform my duty as Secretary of Agriculture to ensure that the law is implemented while the rice farming sector is also protected,” Piñol said.
Right now, DA and its attached agencies are already identifying their strategies to cushion the adverse effect of the massive inflow of cheap imported rice on local rice farmers.
In 2018, crops production, composed mainly of rice and corn, accounted for 50.40 percent of the total agricultural output. Palay production declined by 2.20 percent because of the many typhoons that hit the country during the year.
Part of DA’s strategy moving forward is to strengthen support to the rice farmers through the provision of free seeds, fertilizers, solar irrigation, equipment and credit.
NFA will also intensify its local procurement program and will continue to buy clean and dry palay at P17 per kilo with additional P3.70 incentive per kilo.
Piñol said the agency will also encourage and support rice farmers to use rice seed varieties with better eating quality so that their produce would fetch a better price.
Piñol also said that even with liberalization, the country will still not abandon its rice self-sufficiency goal as well as its rice output target for the year, which stands at 20 million MT.