President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to sign into law the Rice Tariffication bill soon. This will usher in a new market regime and limit the government’s role in procuring the commodity.
The bill essentially allows legitimate rice traders to import the commodity without permit from the National Food Authority, provided they secure a sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance from the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry and pay the appropriate tariff to the Bureau of Customs.
The National Economic and Development Authority, this early, is upbeat about the bill set to be transmitted to Malacañang for President Duterte’s signature. Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia says the bill will make rice affordable and accessible to Filipinos. Rice supply will also no longer be the sole responsibility of the NFA.The measure amends the two-decade-old Republic Act No. 8178, or the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996, and replaces the quantitative restrictions on rice imports with tariff. The NFA will now focus on ensuring sufficient buffer stocks to address emergency situations. While there is a need to periodically replenish the buffer stocks, NFA can still sell cheap rice but to specific markets, like those in far-flung areas that some private traders may not find profitable to serve. The bill aims to liberalize rice imports to foster competition in the domestic market and eventually bring down prices. Lowering rice prices, in turn, will reduce the country’s inflation rate after surging to a nine-year high of 6.7 percent in September and October.The government, meanwhile, must ensure that the tariff or customs collections from the rice imports of the private traders are well spent to alleviate the plight of farmers and raise their productivity. The Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund from the tariff revenues proposed under the bill should assist the farmers, especially in the procurement of farm machinery, and provide the money for rice seed development, expanded credit and crop diversification.The government should also set rice self-sufficiency as a goal. Food security is a priority and the Philippines cannot be importing rice indefinitely.