Senators slammed the proposal of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to lower tariffs for pork and rice to reduce prices, fearing that the move would hurt local farmers.
In a Senate hearing on food prices on Monday, February 1, Senate agriculture committee chairperson Cynthia Villar and Senator Imee Marcos questioned why the DA, the agency tasked to protect farmers, is moving to burden the local industry.
“Nakakatakot. Imagine, DA, tagapagtanggol dapat ng magsasaka, pangungunahan na naman ang importation. Ano ba naman, baliktad na yata ang mundo,” Marcos said.
(This is alarming. Imagine, DA, the agency that’s supposed to protect farmers, will lead moves toward importation. It seems that the world has turned upside down.)
The DA is proposing to triple the minimum access volume (MAV) or the number of allowable pork imports with lower tariffs from 54,000 metric tons to 162,000 metric tons, as pork prices hit record highs amid the coronavirus crisis.
Pork prices have reached as high as P450 per kilo, based on DA data.
During the same hearing, agriculture stakeholders told senators that the DA proposed to lower the tariffs from 30% to 5% for at least a year.
“Sasabihin hindi naman daw walang taripa kasi may 5%. Ano ba naman ang 5%…parang lokohan, hanggang 2022,” Marcos said.
(The DA would argue that there’s still a 5% tariff. What’s 5%…this is a joke if it would be implemented until the end of 2022.)
As for proposals to lower tariffs on rice, Villar firmly said “no, over my dead body.”
“Wala namang rice shortage, talagang pina-i-import naman sila. Bakit pinag-iinitan ang rice? Ito nga ang saving grace natin. ‘Wag na pakialaman ang rice,” Villar said.
(There’s no rice shortage, and rice is allowed to be imported. Why are we focusing on rice? It’s our saving grace. Let’s not tinker with rice prices.)
Based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, rice prices decelerated in 2020, which in turn, pulled down inflation.
“In unison, ang Senate ayaw ang pagbaba ng tariff. That’s the only protection of local farmers from imports. Gumawa kayo ng ibang paraan para pababain ang inflation,” Villar told Agriculture Secretary William Dar.
(In unison, the Senate opposes the lowering of tariffs. That’s the only protection of local farmers from imports. Look for other means to lower inflation.)
“For a change, the DA should prioritize local producers. Sobra-sobra na sa ginhawa ang processors, importers, at traders (The perks for processors, importers, and traders are already too much),” said Rosendo So, chairperson of Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura.
“At no point in our history [did] retail prices [go] down due to increased imports or lowered tariff.”
Dar agreed with statements made by senators, but noted that there should be a “balancing act” between making farmers competitive and keeping prices low.
In a presentation sent by the DA to reporters, the agency clarified that importation and lowering tariffs on pork would be the “last priority” in their “whole-of-nation approach.”
The DA said repopulating areas affected by African swine fever, financing farmers, and mobilizing supply from surplus provinces to Metro Manila are still the main priorities.