RP gov’t urged: Don’t slash rice tariff yet

By Amy R. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

25 OCTOBER 2009


http://newsinfo. inquirer. net/breakingnews /regions/ view/20091025- 232201/RP- govt-urged- Dont-slash- rice-tariff- yet



MANILA, Philippines -- Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) urged government officials on Sunday, not to ratify the Asean trade pact, stressing that the Philippines should retain its tariff protection for rice.


"Don't ratify the Asean trade, if the Thai government wishes to. We can not be cowed by that threat. After suffering from the deadly onslaught of two typhoons, our government should not sell out the interest of our own rice farmers," the non-government organization said in a statement.


R1 issued the statement in reaction to the threat of the Thailand government during the Asean summit that it would not ratify the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) pact if it could not get fair deals from the Philippines on the rice issue.


"We have said this time and again: our rice farmers can not afford to compete with the liberalized inflow of Thai rice that is much cheaper than our local produce. How can we possibly withstand it now that the government could not even give our own rice farmers due production support in the light of the massive damage brought by “Ondoy” and “Pepeng”?" said Jessica Reyes Cantos, R1 lead convenor.


Cantos stressed that the least the government could do would be to stand by its position of maintaining high tariff protection until it could sufficiently assure the local rice industry of fair trade competition with other countries.


Under the Asean trade pact, the Philippine government is expected to slash tariffs for rice from the current 40 percent to only 20 percent by Jan. 1, 2010, according to an Ibon Foundation statement.


"Under this very tight situation, we can not help but seek the accountability of the technocrats in the past and present administration who allowed our rice industry and agriculture in general to come to this pass. We have no one else to blame but them who have chosen to neglect our local agriculture sector while Thailand and our neighbors in Southeast Asia went miles away ahead of us," Cantos said.


R1 noted that the Philippine government might be tempted to acquire more imported rice now, with the country facing a possible shortfall following the heavy damage suffered by the country’s farms in the past two cyclones.


However, the group said the government should access the Asean rice reserve program.


"It will be more difficult to cop out of a trade pact that we will later prove to be damaging more than beneficial to our national interest," Cantos said.


The group earlier urged Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap to use the East Asia Emergency Rice Reserve mechanism to access rice from other ASEAN-member countries at relatively stable prices.








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