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Meat imports will kill PH hog industry – senators

LUXURY For the poor and daily wage earners, having pork on their table is considered a luxury due to rising meat prices. At a wet market in Las Piñas City, prime cuts of pork are sold for at least P365 a kilo. —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

MANILA, Philippines — Senators are challenging the computations of agriculture officials that led to President Rodrigo Duterte’s “mind-boggling” decision to raise imported pork volumes by 350,000 metric tons (MT) on top of a reduction in import duties that, they said, packed a double whammy for backyard hog raisers.

During Monday’s Senate committee-of-the-whole inquiry into the ills facing the domestic meat industry due to the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the 350,000 MT would amount to about 5 million pigs.

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Quizzed by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon about the current population of pigs being raised by farmers in the country, Dar replied: “About 9.7 million.”

“So, 5 million over 9.7 million is almost 50 percent of the present population of pigs. This is what we will import?” Drilon asked the secretary, who said yes.

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“What I’m driving at is have you not considered how this will devastate the hog industry, especially backyard hog raisers? Almost 70 percent would be generated by backyard raisers, and if you import this much, almost 50 percent of our present population, won’t that cause the collapse of the local industry?” Drilon asked.

“You are recommending more than double and you are admitting this will represent more than 50 percent of our present pig population of 9.7 million,” he added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III interjected: “It’s mind-boggling. My big question, how were you able to convince the President?”

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, for his part, censured the Department of Agriculture (DA) for ignoring the pleas of hog raisers and pushing for the issuance of Executive Order (EO) No. 128.

“I could not think of an act more cruel than beating to death somebody who is already dying. Such is the fate of our 80,000 local backyard hog raisers at the hands of the DA, which should have been their primary caregiver,” he said.

EO 128, which was signed by the President last week, mandates the reduction of tariffs on imported pork, from 30 to 5 percent, and 40 to 15 percent for “in-quota” and “off-quota,” respectively.

Lacson and other senators urged Dar to convince the President to reconsider and recall EO 128, which he likened to “botcha” or “double-dead” meat.

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Aside from projected foregone revenues of about P12 billion, EO 128 would kill the local hog industry by swamping the country with imported pork, Lacson said as he raised doubt on the DA’s reasons for supporting the order that raised the minimum access volume (MAV) six-fold, or from the old cap of 54,000 tons to 404,000 tons.

“So, can we conclude that it is only because of the penchant and whim of the [DA] to import that made them do it? Maybe the bigger question is why? Or how much?” he said, alluding to an earlier allegation of a “tong-pats” (kickbacks) scheme in the importation of pork.

He also criticized the supposed “machination” by Malacañang to skirt the approval of Congress in the proposal to increase the MAV, by submitting the recommendation while the Senate and House of Representatives were on recess.

Under the law, any executive act submitted to Congress was deemed ratified after the lapse of 15 days, Lacson said.

“Granting without accepting that the recommendation was already in effect, is it not absurd that the policy, which will flood our market with imported pork, will not be a product of deliberations by the members of the two Houses of Congress, but rather, a result of devious machinations by those who want to trespass and usurp the power to legislate?” he asked.

‘Merciless killing’

“This is not by any language mercy killing, Mr. President. Rather, it is ‘merciless killing,’ he said, addressing Sotto.

Sen. Ralph Recto expressed doubts on the DA’s plan to repopulate the country’s hog industry amid officials’ admission that EO 128 provided no assurance of lower pork prices.

“Why reduce the tariff if there is no assurance that prices will go down? The government could lose money but the prices will still not go down and I’m worried that we will also kill our local hog industry. I hope that will not happen,” he said.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri also called on the DA to review its current policy directions, which, he said, might lead to its being renamed the “Department of Importation.”

Temporary measure

“Importation should be the last resort of the DA. It’s been the policy of the DA to promote importation whether it is rice, sugar or pork when there is a problem with prices,” he said.

But Dar defended the decision to raise pork importation volumes, noting that it was effective only for 12 months.

“On MAV, let me emphasize that increasing pork importation… is but a temporary measure to be implemented for a period of one year under strict monitoring and supervision by the inter-agency MAV management committee,” he told senators.

Dar said the President’s issuance of EO 128 lowering pork tariffs “went through a very rigorous process.”

The recommendation, he added, started from the DA and went through the Cabinet level committee on tariff and related matters, the Tariff Commission and the National Economic and Development Authority before reaching the President.

Increase support

For House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, Mr. Duterte should terminate his order, which would cause thousands of hog raisers to lose their jobs.

Importation should be the “last resort” of the government to address rising prices in the country. Instead, it should have increased support for local hog and pouĺtry raisers to help them recover and increase their production, he said in a statement.

Industry groups have also questioned the DA’s basis for setting the suggested retail price (SRP) for imported pork at P270 per kilo, noting that it could easily be sold at P190 a kilo, including the markup for importers and retailers in the market.

For the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), the approval of the reduced tariffs on pork and the SRP was a “racket” meant to allow importers and traders to rake in more money as local raisers grapple with ASF.

Based on the group’s computation with prices based on Bureau of Customs records, a kilo of imported pork imposed with a 5 percent tariff could be sold at P190 a kilo, including a P30 markup for importers and traders and a 20 percent retail margin for meat vendors.

A computation submitted by the Meat Importers and Traders Association to the Tariff Commission, however, showed that imported pork could be sold at P257.50 per kilo, including the transformation cost of P50 per kilo from carcass to choice cuts.

This excluded the markup to be slapped by meat resellers in the market.

The DA has yet to provide the basis for the SRP.

—WITH REPORTS FROM NESTOR CORRALES and KARL R. OCAMPO
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TAGS: Franklin Drilon, hog industrym, Panfilo Lacson, pork imports, Rodrigo Duterte, Vicente Sotto III
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