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Senators score pattern of anomalies in imports

By: - Correspondent / @melvingasconINQ
/ 05:44 AM April 16, 2021

Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Thursday slammed the government’s importation policy on agricultural products which has cost the country at least P6.5 billion in foregone revenues over the past six years.

“We are losing an average of P1.085 billion yearly in revenues [over] the last six years. And this is not only done for the importation of pork. The same scheme is used for the importation of seafood and chicken. There’s a pattern,” Lacson said at the resumption of the Senate probe on the government’s agricultural importation policy.

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Lacson said the pattern of irregularities in the importation of pork, chicken and seafood could be gleaned from inconsistencies between the government’s importation data and those of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The senator said the WTO data showed that the Philippines imported a total of 1.37 million kilos of fish or seafood from the top 15 countries from 2015 to 2020 but the Philippine Statistics Authority recorded 1.39 million kilos, or 2 percent higher.

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But in terms of cost, the discrepancy between the declared cost of the imported fish or seafood grew by 31 percent, compared to its WTO value, Lacson said.

The discrepancy would reveal the prevailing practice of undeclared shipments of imported products which never reached cold storage warehouses, where they were supposed to have been subjected to thorough inspection for possible diseases such as African swine fever (ASF).

“This data does not even include that for pork, and for chicken. We’re not even talking here of garlic—those that are declared as apples,” Lacson added.

Senators have blamed the prevalent smuggling of pork, supposedly left unchecked by the Department of Agriculture (DA), for the entry into the country of ASF that has decimated the country’s pork inventory.

Illegal schemes

“These illegal schemes are not only for pork, but it cuts across almost all [food safety regulatory agencies],” he said, referring to the Bureau of Plant Industry, Bureau of Animal Industry, National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS), and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III chided officials for pointing to processed meat products, sent to the country as pasalubong for the ASF outbreak.

“You better stop your narrative about ASF arriving in the country through ‘pasalubong’ packs because that is small change. But what Senator Lacson is saying about smuggling, this is very clear, and you have lots to answer for here,” he said.

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Lacson lamented that the DA’s current thrust of resorting to importation were killing the local industries.

He cited previous issuances which the DA had also pushed, which sought to reduce tariffs on imported chicken and seafoods, similar to what it did with the controversial Executive Order 128.EO 128, signed by President Duterte on April 7, sought to reduce the tariff for imported pork from 40 to 15 percent, and expand the minimum access volume from 54 million kilos to 404 million kilos.

Prevailing sentiment

In 2017, the DA also pushed for the issuance of EO 27, which lowered the tariff from 40 percent to 5 percent on mechanically deboned chicken meat, Lacson said.

In 2019, it sought the issuance of EO 82, which expanded the coverage of EO 27 to cover frozen poultry products; and EO 123, which extended the validity of EO 82 until 2022; according to the senator.

“The prevailing sentiment among poultry growers is that all these DA issuances are all meant to kill the local industries,” Lacson said.

The senator also questioned NMIS officials why they issued sanitary and phytosanitary importation clearances to spurious companies, raising suspicion that these were being used as cover for smuggling activities.

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TAGS: Agriculture, duterte, imports, senators, WTO
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