Implementation of law easing rice imports to begin March 3

By CNN Philippines Staff

The new law easing import restrictions on rice will take effect on March 3, as approved by the policy-making National Food Authority (NFA) Council Monday.

A statement from the Department of Finance, a Council member, on Monday said NFA’s functions, including its Food Development Center, will be turned over to the Department of Agriculture (DA).

The Council also ordered the NFA to submit a restructuring plan within 30 days instead of its earlier 180-day proposal.

According to the statement, Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez III presided over the meeting as “endorsed” by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol. Piñol was absent.

Others in the meeting were Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez,  Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo, Agriculture Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan, and representatives of the National Economic Development Authority.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the bill into law on February 15. He had certified the bill as urgent in October in response to rising commodity prices.

The law removed from the NFA its power to implement negotiable warehouse receipts for grains, inspect grains for inventory, register, license and supervise warehouses and mills, and to regulate the grains trade.

Businesses and individuals can now buy rice from foreign sources and just pay the 40 percent tariff. Tax proceeds will fund programs to help farmers such as mass irrigation, rice storage and research initiatives.

NFA employees earlier opposed the law’s passage, but their officer-in-charge Tomas Escarez allayed fears of layoffs.

Piñol, in a Facebook post Sunday, said he will support the rice tarriffication law amid claims he is against it.

“My personal views will not matter on whether these twin moves should be implemented or not,” Piñol said. “The Philippine Government made these commitments to the World Trade Organization negotiations many, many years ago and these are commitments that we must honor or else we will face trade disputes from other WTO member countries.”

Vice President worries about ‘safety nets’

Vice President Leni Robredo, however, expresed concern over the so-called “safety nets” for farmers.

“Sana, unang una, ayusin iyong IRR, iyong implementing rules and regulations, siguruhin na iyong mawawala sa mga farmers, mayroon tayong pampalit-mayroon tayong pampalit na subsidies saka assistance, para maihanda iyong ating mga magsasaka. Tapos ayusin iyong implementation. Kasi kapag hindi natin naayos iyong IRR, kapag hindi natin naayos iyong implementation ng safety nets, kawawa iyong ating mga magsasaka,” Robredo said in a statement.

[Translation: Hopefully, first, we fix the IRR (implementing rules and regulations), ensure that whatever the farmers lost, we can return. There should be subsidies and assistance ready for our farmers. And it must be properly implemented. If we don’t set the IRR up properly and we don’t implement the safety nets properly, our farmers will suffer.]

Economic managers said the law would lower rice prices, which at a time hit ₱70 per kilogram in some areas last year. Farmer group  Kilusan ng Magbubukid ng Pilipinas wants the law scrapped, calling it a “death warrant” for the rice industry and deny farmers of their livelihood.

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