Rice farmers ask government to take tough stance on Asean

Jennifer A. Ng / Reporter

25 OCTOBER 2009




RICE farmers are urging the Philippine government to not be “cowed” by the threats of Thailand to delay the ratification of a pact that will ensure the free flow of goods in Southeast Asia due to the issue on rice tariffs.

Rice Watch Action Network (R1), a nongovernment organization (NGO) consisting of rice farmers, said the Philippines will be better off not agreeing to the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement (Atiga) than commit to a deal that will compel it to increase its rice imports annually.

“Don’t ratify the Asean trade, if the Thai government wishes to. After suffering from the deadly onslaught of two typhoons, our government should not sell out the interest of our own rice farmers. We should stand by our position that we cannot just give away our tariff protection for rice,” said R1 lead convenor Jessica Reyes-Cantos.

R1 said Thailand’s proposal of allowing the entry of 360,000 metric tons (MT) of duty-free rice as concession to allowing the Philippines higher tariffs on rice will surely compete with local produce, as Thai rice is produced more efficiently.

“Our rice farmers cannot afford to compete with Thai rice farmers. How can we compete if our rice farmers could not even be given production support [especially now that they were affected] by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng?” said Cantos.

On top of this, she said, rice farmers had to contend with little support from the government for years.

“Under this very tight situation, we cannot help but seek the accountability of the technocrats in past and present administrations. We have no one else to blame, but they who have chosen to neglect our local agriculture sector while Thailand and our neighbors in Southeast Asia went ahead of us,” said Cantos.

As of press time, the Department of Agriculture could not be reached for comment.

The National Rice Farmers’ Council also appealed to the government to remain steadfast in its earlier position to not bring down tariffs on rice.  

“We hope the government will not give in to the demands of Bangkok. Hindi na kakayanin ng magsasaka [Our farmers can no longer take it],” said NRFC spokesman Jaime Tadeo.

International reports quoted Thai officials as saying that it is looking at delaying the ratification of the Atiga if the Philippines will not agree to Bangkok’s terms relating to the rice trade.

Under the Asean Free Trade Agreement, the Philippines should bring down rice-import tariffs to 20 percent from the existing 40 percent by January 1, 2010.

Agriculture officials, however, have earlier said the most Manila could do is lower tariffs to a maximum of 35 percent.

In exchange for retaining higher tariffs on rice, the Philippines will allow Thailand to ship 50,000 MT of rice at zero duty. International reports said, however, that Bangkok wanted to raise this volume to 360,000 MT.

Atiga’s goal is to create a single market and production base with the free flow of goods by 2015.

To do this, Asean Economic Ministers agreed to enhance the Afta-Common Effective Preferential Treatment and make it more comprehensive by signing the Atiga in August 2007.

The Atiga will only come into force once it is ratified by all the member states of Asean.








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