Hike rice tariffs to rescue farmers, ex-agriculture chief urges gov't

Michelle Ong, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 22 2019 11:47 AM | Updated as of Nov 22 2019 12:47 PM

A rice farmer looks at his farm in Guimba, Nueva Ecija. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA -- The government should activate "safeguard duties" to temporarily increase tariffs on rice and help local farmers compete with overseas purchases of the staple grain, a former agriculture secretary said Friday.

The 35-percent tax under the Rice Tariffication Law, a measure aimed at bringing down the price of the staple to tame inflation, should be increased to 70-86 percent, said Leonardo Montemayor, now president of the Federation of Free Farmers.

While replacing import quotas with tariffs on overseas purchases brought inflation back to the government's target, farmers groups said low prices forced farmers to sell at a loss.

Montemayor said rice farmers had lost P60 billion to P140 billion due to low market prices since the tariff-based regime took effect. The current tariff rate is "extremely unprotective" of the industry.

"Hindi defect sa batas (It's not a defect in the law), but failure to implement the law," Montemayor told ANC's Early Edition.

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"If there's a big injury to rice producers because of an import surge, if it's proven that there's a big drop in palay prices due to over importation, government can impose additional tariffs or import taxes called safeguard duties on top of the 35 percent," he said.

Before the Rice Tariffication Law took effect, Montemayor said the president and the National Food Authority could raise tariffs on rice imports under certain conditions. The law removed the NFA's power to manage imports of the staple grain.

On Thursday, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said rice imports would continue but with stricter implementation of rules. The day before, President Rodrigo Duterte said rice imports should be stopped with the local harvest season ongoing.

The President's call might be too late, Montemayor said.

"It's a case of closing down the barn door when the horses have escaped," he said.

"Nakita na ang problema, only to find out hindi pala matutuloy ang stoppage, ililimit lang daw, strikto sa pagkuha ng clearances," he said.

(The problem has been identified, only to find out that the stoppage won't push through, just tightening the issuance of clearances.)