Department of Agriculture

DA chief ‘not consulted’ on easing of importation of agri products

Iya Gozum

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DA chief ‘not consulted’ on easing of importation of agri products

OFFICIAL. Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. holds his first press briefing on November 6, 2023.

Ralf Rivas/Rappler

A NEDA official says in a House hearing on Monday that they relied on the position of the Department of Agriculture when they approved the order

MANILA, Philippines – Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. said on Monday, May 6, that he was “not consulted personally” on Administrative Order (AO) No. 20, which seeks to remove non-tariff barriers and ease importation of agricultural products.

“From what I understand, this discussion was going on before my time pa,” said Tiu Laurel in a House of Representatives hearing on the proposed amendments on the Rice Tariffication Law. “But while I was in office since November last year, I was not consulted personally.”

Lawmakers on Monday questioned AO 20 and its impact on prices of agricultural commodities and local farmers. Non-tariff barriers are defined in the order as “policy measures, other than customs tariff, that restrict trade, including but not limited to quotas, import licensing systems, regulations, and red tape.”

AO 20, signed by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin last April 18, instructs the DA, Department of Trade and Industry, and Department of Finance, to:

  1. Streamline procedures in licensing, shorten processing time, exempt licensed traders from submission of registration requirements
  2. Facilitate importation of certain agricultural products beyond authorized Minimum Access Volume; reduce or remove related administrative fees
  3. Streamline procedures for issuance of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Import Clearance (SPSIC)
  4. Improve logistics, transport, distribution, and storage of imports

Agap Representative Nicanor Briones asked the representative of the National Economic and Development Authority if farmers and the DA Secretary were consulted before the order was approved.

“Parang highway ng mga importers to ah,” said Briones. “Sa tingin ko nga pag binasa natin ‘yung AO, eh parang dinraft ng importer eh.”

(This looks like a highway for importers. I think if you read the AO, it looks like it was drafted by importers.)

Briones used as example the provision on the automatic approval of SPSIC when the DA fails to act on the application within the prescribed period. SPSIC is a document that deems imported agricultural products safe for consumption.

Rory Dacumos, officer-in-charge director of the agriculture office of NEDA, said during the hearing on Monday that the order was already approved by the interagency committee last December 2023. This was a month after Tiu Laurel was appointed as agriculture chief.

Dacumos said that the committee that approved had representatives from the DA.

“We rely on the position of DA,” Dacumos said. “And as I understand, it was a different set of officials who attended in the previous meetings and approvals of the interagency committee, not the current Secretary.”

NEDA Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, in a statement on April 25, maintained that AO 20 will facilitate “the sufficiency and timeliness of imports especially during periods where domestic supply is inadequate to meet demand at affordable prices.”

While the government works hard to “raise the yield of our farmers and increase their incomes,” Balisacan said the impact of these interventions will take time to materialize.

Despite questions surrounding AO 20, Balisacan emphasized that “neither NEDA nor the government is biased toward importation. 

“In the face of shortages in local production, where supply cannot immediately meet demand at affordable prices, AO 20 serves as a strategic policy tool responsive to the needs of our economy,” said Balisacan.

In 2023, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. created the Inter-agency Committee on Inflation and Market Outlook. The committee served as the advisory board to Malacañang’s Economic Development Group “on measures that would keep food and energy inflation within government targets.” –

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.