THE Economic Development Cluster (EDC) will submit to the Office of the President a draft executive order (EO) removing the administrative constraints and nontariff barriers on the importation of fish, rice, sugar, meat and vegetables, Malacañang said.
Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque Jr. said in a Palace briefing on Wednesday that this would mean that the draft order meant “simplifying the process of food importation.”
“The EO has to do with the nontariff barriers and nontariff impediments. But we are already doing the other measures, such as food importation, removal of some restrictions to importation. We are already doing it,” he said.
Roque said the EDC also had an earlier briefing with the President on their joint statement on the August inflation, including their proposed measures to address
A copy of the statement was also distributed during the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
This followed the unveiling by the EDC last week of measures to ease high food prices after August inflation surged to a nine-year high of 6.4 percent, bringing the year-to-date inflation at 4.8 percent.
The August inflation is beyond the upper end of Central Bank’s forecast range of 5.5 to 6.2 percent.
According to Roque, among the short-term policy recommendations listed by EDC include: immediately release 4.6 million sacks of rice available in warehouses of the National Food Authority to the market across the country and allocation of 2.7 million sacks of rice to Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi; import 5 million sacks of rice, which arrive over the next one-and-a half months and another 5 million sacks early next year; simplifying and streamlining the licensing procedures for rice imports of the NFA; forming monitoring teams for surveillance of rice from ports to NFA warehouses and outlets; urging the Senate to immediately pass the rice tariffication bill within the month; allowing fish imports to be distributed in Metro Manila and other markets in the country; setting up public markets where producers can sell directly to the end customer, as well as provide cold storage facility for this purpose; simplifying procedures to allow importation of sugar to direct users to moderate cost to consumers; improve logistics, transport distribution and storage of vegetables, which would reduce prices.
Moreover, Roque said the President wants to prioritize the release of essential food items in the port. “This is why we said that there is a need for a designated person who is on-duty all the time to sign the documents pertinent to rice importation at Customs,” he said in Filipino.
Earlier, Malacañang said designating a full-time Customs person to authorize rice import permits will help address delays in the importation of NFA rice.
The arrival of rice imported by the NFA is expected to ease the increase in rice prices. Roque added the EDC also suggested medium-to-long term measures.
For agriculture, Roque said the cluster suggested facilitating better access to farming technologies, promoting research and development, developing resilient and high-yielding varieties of rice; promoting utilization of high-yielding variety of crops; reassessing the country’s planting season and crop viability in each region and local government units to aggressively impose the idle land tax.
In the fisheries sector, the EDC also suggested amending the Fisheries Code and other policies governing it.
President Duterte on Tuesday also announced that he is already seeking a replacement for NFA Administrator Jason Y. Aquino, who has asked to be relieved from his post. Duterte said Aquino was tired and he had disagreements with him all the time.
Duterte also said he will also be recommending to Congress the abolition of the NFA Council.
In a separate briefing, Trade Undersecretary Ruth B. Castelo disputed the President’s statement, saying that it has done its job.
“No, I don’t agree,” Castelo said when asked if she agrees that the council failed to perform its functions. “Because we have set the direction. The council has spoken about its position on the administration of…rice importation and distribution.”
Image credits: Nonie Reyes