House passes bill lifting rice importation restrictions
The House of Representatives has passed a bill lifting restrictions on rice importation and allowing the President to impose tariffs instead.
House Bill No. 7735, or the Revised Agricultural Tariffication Act, was approved on third and final reading during the Tuesday plenary session with 200 votes in its favor.
Seven lawmakers voted against the measure, while another two abstained.
‘Anti-dumping and countervailing measure’
Instead of using quantitative import restrictions to protect local rice producers, the bill stated that the government’s new policy would be to “employ anti-dumping and countervailing measures.”
The President would be empowered to impose tariffs, adjust the rates, regulate exports in cases of shortages, impose temporary restrictions on the volume of rice imports, and enter into trade negotiations regarding the imposable tariff rates.
The National Food Authority would be mandated to undertake the direct importation of rice to ensure food security and maintain sufficient buffer stocks. It would also be tasked with issuing import permits to certified and licensed importers.
Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund
Meanwhile, all duties collected from the importation of rice would be used for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund.
The Rice Fund would be used for investment purposes, credit subsidy and grants for farm equipment and mechanization, crop loans and insurance, post-harvest facilities and related infrastructure, scholarships and vocational education, and research and development.
The Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund would also be set up using all duties from the importation of agricultural products except rice.
However, 80-percent of the fund would take the form of loans, with the remainder going to research and education.
Under the bill, the minimum access volume – or the allowable amount of imports with a lower tariff as committed to the World Trade Organization (WTO) – on rice would revert to the 2012 level of 350,000 metric tons.
The bound rate – agreed maximum tariffs – for rice would be 40 percent for importation within the 350,000 MT threshold for WTO members outside of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
An 180-percent out-quota tariff rate would also be imposed.
Meanwhile, rice imports from Asean member states would be subject to the import duty rate commitments of the Philippines in the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement.
Bill will ‘cripple‘ local rice production
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus, who voted against the bill, said the removal of the rice import quotas would only “cripple the local production of rice.”
“The local farmers would only be disregarded all the more, because the rice importers and traders will primarily benefit. And because the rice cartel will be in a more advantageous position, the manipulation of rice prices will only worsen,” De Jesus said.
She also questioned why much of the funds supposedly meant to help local farmers compete with imported rice was devoted to loans.
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said the bill “totally abandons our rice farmers, in favor of rice importation, in favor rice traders and hoarders at home and in favor of rice farmers of Vietnam and Thailand.”
“A bill that permits the importation of rice without limitations besides tariffs is worse than economic sabotage. This bill spells the economic genocide to our 2.4 million rice farmers, 1.2 million rice farm workers, to the rice consumers and food security,” Casilao added. /atm
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