Rice farmers ask govt to exempt rice from liberalization under Asean

By Jennifer A. Ng

BusinessMirror, December 6, 2006



RICE farmers are asking the government to exempt rice from liberalization under a free trade scheme among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean).
The Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) said that the government should consider this in the face of stiff competition now posed by other rice-producing countries in Asean such as Thailand and Vietnam.
“We should not abandon our tariff protection on our staple food, especially in the Asean trade as our local rice industry has been subjected to unfair competition with the imported rice from Vietnam and Thailand in the past years,” said R1 lead convenor Jessica Reyes-Cantos.
Currently, the Philippines imposes a 50-percent import duty on rice. Despite this, it is considered as one of the highest importers of rice in the region, second only to Indonesia. Thailand, Vietnam, China and the United States are the Philippines’ major suppliers of rice.
Under the Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA)-Common Effective Preferential Treatment (CEPT) scheme, tariffs on rice could go down to between 0 to 5 percent by 2010.
Rice has been categorized under the “highly sensitive” list of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. This means that under the AFTA-CEPT, these countries have been allowed to delay the reduction of tariffs of rice.
Farmers have expressed fears that opening up the country’s market to other rice-producing countries in Asean could bring down the local rice sector to its knees.
“We should be happy that Cambodia has not yet entered into the rice-exporting market. Otherwise, our local farmers will have to be content with much cheaper rice from Cambodia should these enter into our shores,” said Cantos.
R1, which is composed of rice farmers and nongovernment organizations working in the rice sector, called on the government to implement immediate measures to defend the income and livelihood of the rice farmers instead of “surrendering” the sector to liberalized trade.
“We ask the new agriculture secretary to bare his plans for the local rice industry. Is the government seriously pursuing the modernization of local agriculture to withstand the threat of liberalized entry of rice?” said Cantos.
R1 said the local rice sector provides livelihood to 4 million farmers and 6 million women from rural areas that are into rice production.
Rice, considered the country’s staple food, is one of the top imported farm commodities. It accounts for almost 14 percent of the total import expenditures in 2004. The Philippines imported 1.8 million metric tons of rice last year.




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