(2 SEPTEMBER 2019) - Senator Imee R. Marcos has sought to quell the panic of local rice farmers over cheap imports that threaten to push down the buying price of palay even more when harvest time begins in late September.
Local farmers have lost as much as 41.6% of their investment in August, with the farmgate price of palay plunging to as low as Php7 per kilo, compared to their average production cost of Php12.
Marcos asserted that a number of near-term solutions were available to the government to at least bring back the 17-peso support price of palay, like activating provisions in the six-month-old rice tariffication law, tapping into existing support programs, and considering solutions adopted by other Asian countries.
"Let's not exaggerate that the situation of our rice farmers is hopeless and that little can be done," Marcos said.
The senator said that the government can provide more funding support for rice farmers by activating Section 7 of the rice tariffication law, which allows the President to raise the current 35% tariff on rice imports from Thailand and Vietnam.
The higher 180% tariff on rice imports from non-Asean countries can also stand a further increase, so that the government can earn more revenue intended for rice farmer support, Marcos added.
"If South Korea and Japan have imposed import tariffs of 500% to 800% to protect their local farmers, why can't we?" Marcos asked.
Marcos also cited how Singapore prevents rice traders from manipulating prices by cornering 25% of private rice imports when smuggling is detected, buying them at cost with a 5% margin.
The Department of Agriculture also has a calamity measure known as the Quick Response Fund that can be tapped, Marcos said, to buy palay from local farmers and triple the government's "currently inadequate" rice buffer stock good only for 30 days.
Recipients of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4P's) can also receive rice subsidies instead of cash, with rice bought from local farmers using the Php28 billion that the social welfare program provides.
Stricter phytosanitary requirements can also be imposed on rice imports to slow down their entry and market distribution, Marcos added.
The Philippines can also include rice in a "special products list" according to World Trade Organization rules, which allows more flexible trade arrangements when livelihood security is at risk, Marcos also said.
In an agricultural committee hearing last week, Marcos already pressured the National Food Authority to immediately sell more than 4 million bags of imported rice stocked in its warehouses and use expected proceeds of more than Php6 billion to buy palay from local farmers.
"We can save our rice farmers if we could just be thorough in our tasks, work hard, and get things done ASAP," Marcos said.
Source: Senate of the Philippines