Manila: The Philippines has put in place measures to shield its farmers from detrimental effects of an earlier move to liberalise the importation of rice.
According to agriculture secretary William Dar, the Philippines imposed protective measures such as tighter requirements on imported grains in a bid to protect local farmers.
“We will continue to be strict and continue to elevate [food safety] measures before the issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance (SPSIC),” Dar said.
Local rice planters had been complaining that low prices of un-milled rice resulting from the implementation the Rice Tarrification Law earlier this year had left locally produced cereals unable to compete with imports.
In March, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Rice Tarrification Law not just to bring down the price of rice, but also in accordance to the country’s commitments with the World Trade Organisation. Manila also started imposing tariff on imported rice in lieu of import quotas to ease inflation.
Last year, the country experienced its highest inflation in recent years. Economists blamed the high prices of commodities for this and rice is among the biggest factor. To bring down the price of the staple, government allowed the importation of the grain.
But the measures to bring down the price of rice is also resulting in low income for farmers.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), as of October 25 prices of un-milled rice plunged to their lowest in eight years.
PSA said the farm-gate price of rice fell to P15.35 per kilo (Dhs .96)---27 per cent lower compared to the prices in the same period last year.
This brought about calls for the suspension of the Rice Tarrification Law (RTL).
But instead of holding the implementation of the RTL in abeyance, government tightened its quality requirements on imported grains to protect local farmers.
Dar said that the Philippine government has already informed Vietnam and Thailand — the main sources of Manila’s rice requirement — on the tighter SPSIC measures.
“We are not afraid (of repercussions) because we are after food safety,” Dar replied when queried possible criticisms from importers and rice-producing nations.
At present Manila has imported a total of 2.9 million metric tonnes making the country the world’s top rice importer surpassing China which is expected to import 2.5 MMT.
Dar said that the review of the Rice Tarriffication Law is still premature.
“Give the law a chance. We want RTL to work for both farmers and consumers,” he said.
“At the end of the day, this is a reform that has been long wanting and should be implemented now.”
Earlier, a report from GMA News said Duterte had ordered a halt in the importation of rice to protect the farmers, but this was dismissed by Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.