TRAIN concerns delay passage of rice QR bill

The passage of a measure amending the Republic Act (RA) 8178 seeking to abolish the quantitative restriction (QR) on rice is now facing delays as Congress focused on the 2018 national budget and the proposed Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act.

House Committee on Agriculture and Food Chairman Jose T. Panganiban Jr. of Anac-IP said lawmakers will start discussing the measure scrapping the rice QR and converting it into tariffs at the plenary next year.

“The discussion and the passage of the measure will be next year,” Panganiban told the BusinessMirror.  The passage of the bill allowing the tariffication of rice is included in the priority bills earlier identified as urgent by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council.

The House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Agriculture and Food have already endorsed the measure for plenary approval before Congress went on a Christmas break last week. Panganiban had wanted Congress to approve the measure before its Christmas break onDecember 13.

But discussion on the bill had to be deferred as lawmakers prioritized the passage of the proposed P3.7-trillion national budget for 2018 and the tax-reform program.

Contentious provisions in the TRAIN measure forced lawmakers in the congressional bicameral conference committee to work overtime so they can finalize and ratify the bill before their Christmas break.

The House Committee on Agriculture and Food has set the bound tariff rate for rice imports outside the minimum access volume (MAV) at 180 percent. Under the bill, the Philippines will impose a bound tariff rate of 35 percent for rice originating from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations  region, regardless of its volume. Manila would also impose a 40-percent bound tariff most-favored nation rate for in-quota rice imports from countries that do not belong to the Asean.

Once the substitute bill is enacted into law, the country’s MAV for rice shall revert to its 2012 level at 350,000 metric tons (MT), from the current 805,000 MT.

Earlier, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia told the BusinessMirror that the President’s economic team would like Congress to pass the law scrapping the QR by the end of the year so the country can start imposing rice tariffs by the first quarter of 2018.

The authority to set bound tariffs is vested in Congress. But, under the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, the President, upon the recommendation of the National Economic and Development Authority, has the power to modify the tariffs applied on Philippine imports.

The Philippines is under pressure to convert its QR on rice into ordinary customs duties after its waiver on the special treatment on rice expired on June 30. The World Trade Organization (WTO) General Council approved the waiver, which allowed Manila to keep its rice QR until June 30, on the condition that the Philippines will subject its rice imports to ordinary custom duties by July 1.

In March the Philippines informed WTO members that it is facing delays in converting the QR because it has not amended RA 8178, which imposed the import caps on rice indefinitely. As a sign of “goodwill” to its trading partners, President Duterte signed Executive Order 23 in July to extend the concessions made by the Philippines in securing the waiver in 2014.

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