Villar thumbs down amendment of law to scrap QR on rice

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The chairman of the Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture is not keen on amending a law that would pave the way for the scrapping of the quantitative restriction (QR) on rice by July.

Senator Cynthia A. Villar said she will not support any measure that seeks to amend Republic Act (RA) 8178, or the Agricultural Tariffication Act, which allowed caps on rice imports.

“I will not support any bill [amending RA 8178]. How can you support such bill if your farmers are not competitive?” Villar told the BusinessMirror on the sidelines of the relaunching of Cedarhills Garden Center over the weekend.

At present, a bill that would amend RA 8178 has yet to be filed in the Senate. Villar also said she agrees with the Department of Agriculture (DA), which pushed for the extension of the nontariff barrier for two more years to make local rice farmers competitive against their counterparts in Southeast Asian countries.

“Of course, I am afraid for our Filipino rice farmers because we are not really competitive. So we should work to continue that [QR on rice] until we become competitive,” she added.

Earlier, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said the House of Representatives is poised to block any amendments to RA 8178 as this was promised to him by Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez.

“The last time I spoke with the Speaker about the lifting of the QR, the position of Congress is that they don’t want to lift it. Thus, I think, Congress will not move to amend Republic Act [RA] 8178,” Piñol said.

There are already bills filed in the House of Representatives seeking the amendment of RA 8178 in preparation for the lifting of the QR on rice by end-June.

Earlier, the DA chief made an assurance the Philippines will not be flooded with cheap rice imports after the QR on rice expires on June 30. The QR is a nontariff barrier that the WTO has allowed the Philippines to enjoy for more than two decades.

Piñol said RA 8178 would serve as the “saving grace” and “refuge” of Filipino farmers. Under RA 8178, rice is the only farm commodity protected by the QR.

Sans an amendment, Piñol said the Philippines should not be forced to allow the entry of more rice imports. “There cannot be an unregulated entry of imported rice to the country until such time that the law is amended.”

However, the amendment of RA 8178 is included in the priority legislative agenda of the Duterte administration as indicated in its economic blueprint dubbed as the Philippine Development Plan (PDP 2017-2022).

Under PDP 2017-2022, the Duterte administration vowed to allocate all the tariffs collected from rice imports for programs aimed at helping farmers cut production cost.

“Replace quantitative restrictions on rice with tariffs. The tariff proceeds from rice imports will be plowed back to the rice sector,” the PDP read.

While the PDP is cognizant of the adverse impact of the scrapping of the rice QR on small farmers, the government said the tariff collected from imports will be used to help them recoup their losses.

The Duterte administration said it has decided to allow the QR on rice to expire because of its potential impact on rice prices nationwide.

Rice, the government noted, accounts for 30.6 percent of the total food expenditure of the poorest 20 percent of households based on the 2012 Family Income and Expenditure Survey.

“It can help lower the price of rice, and this will benefit the general public, including farmers who are net consumers of rice,” the PDP read.

Under the QR scheme, rice imports within the minimum access volume (MAV) of 805,200 metric tons per year are slapped with a lower tariff of 40 percent, while imports in excess of the MAV are slapped a higher tariff of 50 percent.

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