NFA regulations still in place despite ‘unimpeded’ rice import order

MANILAThe National Food Authority (NFA) is still in the process of harmonizing President Rodrigo R. Duterte's order on the unimpeded importation of rice with its own regulations.

NFA Regional Director Angel Gerry Imperial, Jr. made this clarification a day after Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced Duterte's directive which allows rice dealers to import rice sans licensing and accreditation.

Roque earlier said Duterte wanted to flood the market with rice so that even if the price of crude and other oil prices should go up still further, people will have access to affordable rice.

Imperial, however, said the NFA Council had to harmonize first the President's order with its own current regulations to assure that proper guidelines are in place.

We are managed by the (NFA) Council and all the things that we will be implementing should be approved by the Council so we have real guidelines to follow, Imperial said in a Palace briefing on Thursday.

Trade Undersecretary Ruth Castelo, a member of the NFA Council, further clarified Roque's statement saying that NFA regulations, although less restrictive, are still in place pending the Congressional approval of the rice tariffication law.

It is the President's directive and direction to make importation unimpeded and hassle-free, and with less restrictions. But currently, since we have the NFA regulation still in place while waiting for the rice tariffication law, we still follow regulations although this is now less restrictive and easier for importers to bring in rice, Castelo said.

By less restrictive, she said that there would probably be no need for accreditation for as long as permits given by the NFA Council.

I understand that we also requested the NFA Council, especially for some retailers' applications, for NFA to waive some fees. So it can be probably done by the NFA now going towards rice tariffication pursuant to the President's directive, she added.

Tariffication law

Finance Assistant Secretary Tony Lambino stressed that despite the number of issuances and measures in place to combat inflation, there is still an urgent need to pass a tariffication law.

Lambino said the measure is currently in the Senate plenary and is set to be passed within the week.

Both chambers of Congress are expected to reconcile their versions in a bicameral conference.

He said the passage of a rice tariffication law will lower the prices of rice, bring down inflation, and provide resources to support farmers.

Last month, Duterte signed Administrative Order (AO) No. 13 to streamline procedures on the import of agricultural products, including rice.

Alongside this order, Memorandum Order (MO) Nos. 26, 27, and 28, were also signed to stabilize the prices of basic agricultural commodities at reasonable levels and maintain their sufficient supply in the domestic market.

Castelo described AO No. 13 as a preparatory to rice tariffication.

In effect, AO 13 is preparatory to rice tariffication 'cause if you take note of section 1, removing the non-tariff barriers and streamlining one provision says to liberalize issuance of permits and accreditation of traders who want to import rice to break the monopoly , eventually we go to rice tariffication. For now we start liberalizing, she said.

Top inflation driver

Lambino said rice contribution to inflation was just 0.1 percentage point in 2017, but between January to September 2018 it grew 10 timesto one percentage pointmaking it the number one driver of inflation last September.

He admitted that had the government managed the rice problem better, September inflation of 6.7 percent would have been 5.7 percent to 5.8 percent.

The finance official, meanwhile, said the government has learned from supply problems in the past and we will not allow it to happen again.

Through tariffication also means that non-tariff barriers are also taken down such as removing the need to get an import license from the NFA which is one reason for high rice prices, Lambino said.

This is reflected in the Senate version which is already in plenary; it is in the period of amendments. In the bicam, we must support the Senate version as the House version retains the import licensing power of NFA, he added. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency