Congress urged to probe, stop lower tariff on rice imports
MANILA, Philippines—The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) on Tuesday urged the House of Representatives to investigate and suspend the implementation of Executive Order No. 135, which President Rodrigo Duterte issued to lower tariffs on rice imports from non-Asean countries.
In a letter addressed to Congress, the FFF said reducing rice import tariffs was “totally unjustified.”
The President’s EO temporarily reduces most favored nation (MFN) tariffs for rice to 35 percent from 40 percent for in-quota imports and 50 percent for out-quota imports, according to Malacañang.
Malacañangexplained that the directive was intended to “diversify the country’s market sources, augment rice supply, maintain prices affordable and reduce pressures on inflation.”
“The EO allegedly also took into consideration ‘the increase in global rice prices, and the uncertainties surrounding the steady supply of rice in the country,” the FFF said in its letter to Congress.
The group reiterated an earlier statement describing as “baseless” the grounds cited for the tariff adjustment. It said reducing rice import tariff through the EO was “surreptitiously and improperly done.”
In a previous statement, FFF National Manager Raul Montemayor cited a few points to support the group’s opposition to the EO.
Some of the arguments, which were also included in the letter that FFF sent to Congress, were:
- The country’s rice market is already wide open for imports from any country.
- The country’s rice inventories and projected domestic production figures show that there is no need to augment rice supply yet.
- Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that retail rice prices have remained stable in the first few months of 2021 and are lower than in 2019.
- Current inflationary pressures were due to increases in pork and fish prices, not rice.
- The temporary increase in global rice prices had no significant impact on the local retail prices.
- “There is no assurance that lower import costs will translate to cheaper prices for consumers.”
- Encouraging farmers to improve their rice production is “the best way” to address any contingency
- Reduction in tariffs will lead to a significant loss of tariff revenues and a reduction in the funds for farmer programs.
“Given these foregoing reasons, may we request your Honors to call for an investigation into the matter and immediately conduct hearings for all parties to present their side,” the FFF letter read.
“In the meantime, we urgently seek a temporary suspension of the implementation of Executive Order 135,” the group added.
‘A clear abuse of power’
Montemayor said the EO was a “clear abuse of power” by the Executive.
“The Executive has clearly abused its privilege to adjust tariff rates, which is a power delegated by Congress primarily to allow it to promptly address the market disturbances when Congress is not in session,” he said.
Montemayor said there was no urgent need to import or imminent threat to the country’s rice supply.
He described the move as “an underhanded attempt to usurp the powers of Congress and preempt its actions on the issue.”
On Monday (May 17), Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who served as presidential adviser on food security in the second Aquino administration, likewise, questioned the power of the President to lower tariffs two days before Congress resumes session.
Pangilinan said he might file a joint resolution seeking the withdrawal of the executive order.
The senator had also flagged the “double whammy” effect of the new executive order.
“Patay na naman ang rice farmers natin. Dapa na ang ating mga magpapalay dahil sa tuloy-tuloy na pasok ng imported rice. Sumubsob pa dahil sa pandemya. Ngayon, parang ililibing na sila sa hirap sa ulat na pagbaba ng taripa,” Pangilinan said in a statement when sought for comment on the President’s EO.
(It will kill our local rice farmers. Our rice farmers are at the losing end as more imported rice enter the country. They are already feeling the effects of the pandemic, Now, they’re being buried with reports that tariffs are being lowered.)
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