PH rice policy tagged flawed, prone to graft
The biggest threat to the country’s rice industry is a flawed government policy that, while officially seeking to protect local farmers, is apparently the source itself of loopholes that rice smugglers use to circumvent the law, according to two former officials of a government agency in charge of the country’s grains supply.
Anthony Abad, former administrator of the National Food Authority (NFA), said in a statement that rice smuggling is just a “symptom” of what is ailing the country’s rice industry.
“Smuggling and the illicit importation of rice simply reflect a deficit in supply,” Abad said.
During a hearing in the Senate, senators and officials disagreed over the interpretation of a “special privilege” granted to the Philippines by the World Trade Organization (WTO) to maintain quantitative restrictions (QR) even if the rest of the world has liberalized the importation of rice.
The period during which the Philippines may avail itself of the special privilege, however, had expired on June 12 last year.
Abad said the special privilege period given to the Philippines by WTO was no longer in effect. “The Philippines is the only country that maintains a QR,” Abad said in his statement.
In a separate statement, another former NFA administrator, Angelito Banayo, said government importation of rice is causing billions of pesos in losses.
“We are going to be deep in debt,” said Banayo in the statement. He said that by the time
President Aquino steps down in 2016, the government could be in debt to the tune of at least P190 billion because of rice importation without private sector participation.
The militant farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the government’s rice importation policy is the scourge that keeps farmers mired in poverty, however.
Rafael Mariano, KMP chair, said the country had become a dumping ground of imported rice as a result of this policy.
“This free trade system, in fact, breeds smuggling and corruption,” said Mariano in his statement.
“It will hasten the death of our local rice industry and leave farmers and the Filipino people at the mercy of rice cartels,” he said. Delfin Mallari, Inquirer Southern Luzon
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