DTI chief: Rice price cap may be lifted in 2 weeks
Trade and Industry Secretary Alfredo Pascual on Monday said that the price cap on rice could be lifted within two weeks, noting that the government would have a better grasp of the supply situation by then as the harvest season starts this month alongside the arrival of imports that could stabilize prices.
“So maybe within two weeks, we should be able to lift or see whether we can lift the price cap already,” Pascual said in an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel.
Asked whether they consider the price ceiling as successful, Pascual said: “Yes, because we are able to make rice available to our mass consumers at P41 per kilo for (regular-milled rice) and P45 per kilo for well-milled rice. And I think that is what’s important.”
“Maybe a few are still selling beyond the ceiling, based on our own findings in all the localities that we have monitored, rice is available at the price caps,” he added.
In Metro Manila, regular-milled rice produced locally retailed from P41 to P45 a kilo as of Monday, while local well-milled rice ranged from P45 to P49, according to the Department of Agriculture’s price monitoring.
As part of efforts to bring down rice prices, the Department of Finance (DOF) earlier proposed a temporary reduction of the 35 percent rice import tariff rate to zero or a maximum of 10 percent.
On Monday, the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) filed in the Tariff Commission a request to reduce tariffs on imported milled rice to 10 percent.
FEF, an advocate of market-oriented reforms and consumer welfare, said in its filing date on Sept. 7 that a reduction of tariffs would be effective in bridging the gap between supply of and demand for the staple grain, and check the quickening pace of increases in food prices.
In their petition, FEF told tariff authorities that the price increase for imported rice had been the main factor for present rice prices.
Lawmakers are divided on the issue of lowering the tariff on rice imports.
According to House ways and means panel chair Rep. Joey Salceda, the DOF’s proposal to reduce rice import tariff rates will be a “temporary” but “viable” solution for rice price woes and is best left to the discretion of President Marcos, who can adjust tariff rates when Congress is not in session.
However, two senators on Monday criticized the latest plan of the executive branch to lower the tariff on imported rice, arguing that this would again threaten the livelihood of local farmers who would be forced to deal with lower selling prices of their produce at the onset of the harvest season.
Sen. Imee Marcos, chair of the Senate committee on social justice, welfare and rural development, hinted that “sinister forces” were controlling the country’s rice industry.
She noted that the sequence of government actions all seemed to lead the government to resort to importation.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said she would call for a Senate inquiry into what she described as “contradicting policies” among the agencies of the government, noting that the latest move to lower rice tariff again opens the country to more importation.
“The imposition of zero-tariff importation during the harvest season is another disaster that will strike our local farmers,” she said.
She said she would seek the inquiry to allow agencies in the executive branch to “shed light” on their contradicting policies and to give them “a chance to talk to each other.”
Meanwhile, at the launch in Ilocos Norte of the 2023 Mariano Marcos State University-Philippine Rice Research Institute Rice Paddy Art on Monday, Mr. Marcos said the government would maximize the use of new technology to ensure a stable supply of rice that is accessible and affordable to Filipinos.
Stressing the need to increase rice production in the Philippines to address rice prices in the market, Mr. Marcos underscored the importance of taking “new technology from the laboratory to the rice field.”