Senators blast ‘pro-import’ thrust on pork
MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Monday slammed the policies of the Department of Agriculture (DA) that they said favored the importation of pork and related products as the agency struggled to manage the supply of pork in the country and stem the rising prices of food.
At least four senators led by Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the committee on agriculture and food, criticized the DA for recommending to Malacañang the lifting of tariffs for imported pork and increasing eightfold the cap on meat importation. (See related story in Business, Page B1.)
“Why are you recommending that? You are DA. You should protect the local industry, why lower the tariff?” Villar told officials led by Agriculture Secretary William Dar in an online hearing.
The Senate inquiry, co-led by the committee on trade, is looking into the increase in prices of basic food commodities and the actions taken by government agencies.
The DA’s recommendation to cut tariffs on imported pork to as low as 5 percent, from the current 30 to 40 percent, is contained in Executive Order No. 124, which imposed a 60-day price ceiling on pork and chicken to the objection of sellers of these products.
“We understand the suggestion to import, but not the suggestion to import without tariff. I believe strongly that we cannot remove the tariff because that’s the protection of the local industry,” Villar said.
Dar said it was the Department of Trade and Industry that pushed for lowering tariffs and the DA only gave recommendations.
“No, it’s your responsibility because you are DA. You’re now washing your hands,” an exasperated Villar replied.
Villar and Sen. Francis Pangilinan also questioned the DA’s pegging the landed price of pork at $3 a kilo, when the Bureau of Customs said it was only $1.65 a kilo.
“Are you pro-importer? You should learn to strike a balance [between easing importation and protecting the local industry],” Villar said, adding that “they [importers] are defrauding the government and you in the DA are tolerating it.”
Pangilinan said: “When you project your buying prices to be high, the market will adjust to you, and because you in government are sending signals that you are willing to buy at that price, then that will be the price.”
He called on the DA to harmonize its data with that of the private sector, noting the inconsistency in the number of culled hogs and the value of losses incurred from African swine fever (ASF).
Funds for livestock sector
While the DA claimed that only 400,000 hogs had been culled since the first outbreak in 2019, members of the private sector said the number had already reached 4.5 million.
DA officials were also questioned for allotting only P1.5 billion of the agency’s P67-billion budget this year to the livestock sector, despite the persistence of the swine disease since 2019.
“You should have told us during the budget hearings that you need more money for ASF. We could have approved that,” Villar said. “The livestock industry is private sector-led and for years [has] managed to survive even with limited funding. But now is different. They are being killed by ASF.”
Chester Warren Tan, president of the National Federation of Hog Producers Inc., told the Senate hearing that the majority of the group’s members had yet to receive the transport subsidies promised by the DA.
Dar said earlier that the agency would initially allot P800 million—or 53 percent of its livestock funds—to subsidize hog traders, to ensure that the pork supply in Metro Manila would meet the government-imposed price ceiling of P270 to P300 a kilo.
Senators Grace Poe and Risa Hontiveros said the DA should focus on long-term measures, such as speeding up the construction of first-border inspection facilities in major ports.
“You really have to step up efforts. You cannot just keep on blaming smuggling, because that’s precisely the point of an inspection—to tighten those borders to make sure that smuggled meat does not get into our markets,” Poe said.
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