Sen. Grace Poe appealed to the executive to heed the pleas of rice farmers and livestock raisers for support by not lowering tariffs on rice and pork that will open the floodgates for imports and further discourage local production.
“African swine fever (ASF) wiped out pig farms in most of Luzon with big conglomerates now stepping back. How will local production recover if we flood the market with imports without the necessary assurance that pork and pork products that are sold in the market are free of the disease?” Poe asked.
The senator scored the Department of Agriculture (DA) for its inept handling of ASF that has now reached the Visayas, and for not hearing out its constituents whom it should be advocating for.
“It was the DA that petitioned the Tariff Commission (TC) to lower tariffs on pork and rice despite the objections and the strong arguments against it from hog raisers and rice farmers. After failing to hear them out, the DA didn’t even have the research to support the lowering of tariffs or explain its proposal during the hearings,” Poe said.
The TC conducted separate hearings on the lowering of tariffs on pork and rice imports on Feb. 4. The DA had no presentation that would explain why tariffs should be lowered, not even for rice. It was the Department of Finance (DOF) that attempted to justify why tariffs on rice imports ought to be lowered.
“It is unsettling to see the DOF advocating a cut in tariffs especially now when it has been relying on borrowings for its spending as tax collection is down. Hog raisers have been begging to keep the existing tariff structure as lowering it will only ensure bigger profits for importers and lower collection for government. It is baffling to see both the DA and the DOF pushing for moves contrary to their mandates,” Poe said.
The DA said its draft executive order on the pork and rice tariffs had already been submitted to Malacañang for signature.
The DA proposed the lowering of tariffs on rice imports to 35 percent from the current 40 percent rate for those brought in under the minimum access volume (MAV) mechanism and 50 percent for rice shipments brought in outside the MAV. It also sought the lowering of tariffs on pork imports to five percent for those brought in under the MAV from the current 30 percent and 15 percent for pork brought in outside the MAV from the current 40 percent.
Initial assessment of the Tariff Commission showed that the average price of rice from India and Pakistan in the country is already lower than the price of rice from Vietnam and Thailand despite the higher tariffs on rice imports from non-Asean countries. India, Pakistan and China stand to benefit in the reduction of rice tariffs to 35 percent.
“What is the DA’s motive for lowering rice tariffs when we are expecting a bumper harvest? Bababa ba ang presyo ng bigas para sa mga kababayan nating inuutang na ang pambili nito makakain lang? Is depressing palay prices the objective because lower palay prices do not always result in lower rice prices for consumers? Kasama sa pangako nang ipinasa ang Rice Tarrification Law na bababa ang presyo ng bigas. Simula nang iniba ang papel ng NFA, nawala na rin ang P29 per kilo na bigas. Asan na ‘yung sinasabi noong murang bigas? Nung nawala na sa merkado ang NFA, nawala na rin ang murang bigas. Sino ba ang pinakikita ng DA dito?” Poe asked.
Farmer organizations such as the Federation of Free Farmers, Alyansa Agrikultura, and the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura have asked the TC to junk the DA’s request for lower tariffs on rice and pork for not even providing the commission the courtesy of a presentation to justify its petition.
“By junking the DA’s proposal, we hit two birds with one stone. We help farmers and hog raisers and government gets to collect revenues. How could its proposal be allowed to go so far,” Poe said.