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DA says no complaint means no WTO violation in letter to DOJ

LUCENA CITY—The militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) assailed the heads of the agriculture and justice departments for their alleged antifarmer positions on rice importation.

In a letter to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima last Jan. 14, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said the quantitative restrictions (QR), or volume limit, on rice importation continues to be in place and he believed that its continued enforcement would not violate international trade laws under the World Trade Organization (WTO) unless another country files a complaint against the Philippines.

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“While we may be technically in breach of this [WTO] commitment, the actionable and formal declaration of such by the WTO can only be made if there has been a case filed,” Alcala said in his letter.

Alcala’s letter to De Lima is in reply to the justice secretary’s Dec. 16, 2013 letter to the Department of Agriculture saying she believed that while the Philippines is negotiating an extension of the QR, requiring permits for imported rice could be a violation of the WTO since the QR has lapsed.

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KMP chair Rafael Mariano said the opposing positions of Alcala and De Lima on rice importation mean only that the Aquino administration “will continue the rice liberalization policy that is killing the rice industry and rice farmers.”

While the two Cabinet members have contradicting opinions, Mariano said, “widespread smuggling, overpriced rice importation and high rice prices” continue to make life hard for the people.

The KMP leader said Alcala’s “quantitative liberalization” aims to maintain the QR privilege, which would allow the government the annual importation of a minimum of 350,000 metric tons.

“Since it is only minimum, the government importation has already exceeded 350,000 metric tons,” according to Mariano.

He said De Lima’s position of no more QR was “much worse” than Alcala’s position since it would mean that more imported rice would be flooding the local market.

The WTO, in 2005, granted the Philippines a 10-year “special treatment” to restrict the importation of sensitive agricultural products like rice, which was extended until June 30, 2012.

Negotiations for the extension of the QR will resume in April this year, with additional rounds in June and October.

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Mariano said the country should just pull out of the WTO and the government should instead support local rice farmers and producers.

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TAGS: Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, KMP, News, Regions, World Trade Organization
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