Group opposes liberalization of rice imports in RP
April 1, 2009 | 04/01/2009

Tariffs should still be imposed on the country's rice imports, a civil society group said Tuesday.

In a statement, the Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) said liberalized rice importation will only have a negative impact on the country's vision of self-sufficiency as farmers will be discouraged from rice planting once cheaper imports flood the market.

R1 made the statement in response to the inclusion of rice among products to be given free market access in the Philippines as part of the ASEAN Free Trade Area-Common Effective Preferential Tariff (AFTA-CEPT) scheme in 2010.

The government, however, has earlier promised to increase investments in local rice production and achieve food self-sufficiency in the country by 2013 through its FIELDS (Fertilizer, Irrigation, Equipments, Loans, Driers and Seeds) program.

“The government’s rice program should be coherent with the country’s trade policy. What we are seeing now are government pronouncements to develop the local rice industry while efforts are underway to remove the protection imposed on rice importation,” said R1 lead convenor Jessica Reyes-Cantos.

“The government’s hyped launch of the FIELDS program that claimed to increase rice production to be able to supply the nation’s food requirements is purely lip service. The government’s pronouncement at the height of the rice crisis last year is deemed useless if the government will relax the importation of rice at this time and allow much cheaper, imported rice to freely enter the local market,” she added.

For his part, farmer Jaime Tadeo said rice self-sufficiency will materialize only if the government will truly support local farmers to improve rice production and to fairly compete with other ASEAN countries.

“How can we compete against unabated rice importation when prices from other Asean countries are traditionally cheaper than locally produced rice?” Tadeo said.

R1's studies found that rice from Vietnam and Thailand are cheaper than those from the Philippines since 2003. The group said the gap in prices closed in only last year at the height of the rice crisis, adding that prices would not have gone down without the global downturn.

This situation, Cantos and Tadeo said, makes the government's decision to rely on imported rice even more unacceptable.

“Our officials at the DA told us we really need to include rice in AFTA to allow us to get concessions and gains from our export products. Our challenge to them, what other gains and concessions could be more significant than rice? Will they be willing to trade these supposed gains with the livelihood and welfare of the three million rice farmers and their families?” Tadeo noted.

Meanwhile, Cantos urged the Senate to review the agreement signed under the AFTA-CEPT. “With so many issues raised before and again now with the inclusion of rice, we ask the government to subject AFTA to Senate ratification and subject the agreement to closer scrutiny."








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