Dar defends tariff cuts on pork imports
Agriculture Secretary William Dar tried to defend President Duterte’s decision to increase the amount of pork that may be imported into the country and cut the tariffs on such imports for 12 months.
Dar said the studied moves were only meant to solve the problems caused by the African swine fever (ASF) that has been ravaging the country since 2019 and decimated a third of the country’s hog population in 38 provinces, including Metro Manila.
The swine fever, which is also affecting several other countries, has caused a supply shortage that led to price increases that the pork importation program is meant to address, Dar said.
He also dismissed claims that the Department of Agriculture has not done enough to stamp out the epidemic over the past 19 months.
He said Filipino inventors were developing a product against the viral ASF and the Bureau of Animal Industry has accredited the unidentified product’s positive effects in controlling the hog epidemic.
He also said the state-owned Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. in 2019 waived premium payments, extended insurance coverage to hogs affected by ASF and recently increased its indemnification of those covered by its program.
Dar said these moves, coupled with the importation program, present a “win-win” solution to the depletion of the country’s pork supply.
But Albay Rep. Joey Salceda disagreed and said cutting pork import tariffs would only “harm the domestic industry” and benefit only a handful of importers and traders who already make a killing with current prices.
‘Death sentence’ to industry
Salceda said the price differential between imported pork at about P190 after duties and the retail price of about P300-P400 per kilo was enough incentive to import even without tariff cuts.
“It’s naïve to think that traders will sell at lower prices just because imports are priced more cheaply,” he said, adding that traders were pocketing up to 110 percent in gross margins. “What would stop them from just taking more?”
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas agreed and said the pork tariff cuts were a “death sentence” to the local hog industry.
“The President practically delivered a death sentence to the millions of hog raisers and workers who are dependent on the hog industry. Despite strong opposition from local hog raisers, the government still chose to give incentives to importers and big-time traders, instead of local producers. This traitorous act is worse than ‘botcha’ (double dead meat),” she said on Friday.
Brosas said the Rice Tariffication Act was proof that lowering tariffs would not automatically bring down prices of basic goods.
“It is proof that even with incentives to big-time traders, it won’t mean that they will sell at lower prices. The way things are run by the government, the hog industry will fall before pork prices actually go down,” she said. —WITH A REPORT FROM NESTOR CORRALES
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