‘Delaying safeguard duty on rice imports to hurt farmers more’

THE delay in the imposition of safeguard duties on rice imports could further hurt farmers, as the inflow of the staple is expected to continue amid the harvest season, the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) has warned.

FFF pointed out that this “runs counter to President Duterte’s public instructions not to allow imports during harvest time.”

The imposition of safeguard duties, which could effectively double tariffs on rice imports, is a measure seen by groups like FFF to deter further entry of imported rice.

Under the rules of the WTO and Republic Act 8800, general safeguard duties may be temporarily imposed on imports of rice, on top of regular tariffs, if there is evidence of a surge in rice imports and this surge has resulted in, or threatens to cause, serious injury to the rice farmers, FFF explained.

“There seems to be no sense of urgency and no appreciation of the serious difficulties that rice farmers are facing at present because of the surge of cheap rice imports,’ FFF National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor said in a statement over the weekend.

“The rules on general safeguard duties were designed by the WTO precisely to allow governments to quickly and effectively address market emergencies brought about by trade liberalization. Delaying a decision defeats the purpose of the law, and may make the harm on farmers irreparable,” Montemayor added.

Safeguard probe terminated

Last Friday, the Department of Agriculture (DA) revealed that it terminated its safeguard investigation on rice imports pending a dialogue with the government’s economic managers.

“We started the study on the possibility of having to tap the general safeguards duty. The decision of the department is to have this discussed first with economic development managers,” said Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar, in a five-minute press briefing on Friday.

“That’s our decision: we terminated the first study. We will now actively discuss with the economic development managers on October 24,” Dar added.

Dar’s disclosure came a day after the DA’s 30-day deadline to reveal the findings of its preliminary safeguard investigation.

“If the DA Secretary felt that the economic managers should be consulted on the matter, he should have done this in advance given the urgency of the situation. Now it appears he is simply tossing the problem to the EDC,” Montemayor said.

In a news statement on September 21, the DA said it initiated the preliminary investigation to “arrest” the influx of imports, “particularly this forthcoming main harvest season.”

The DA pointed out that the imposition of a safeguard duty on rice imports is one of the measures it is banking on to stabilize the supply and price of rice.

“We have to holistically and systematically protect the consuming public and much more, our small farmers,” Dar was quoted as saying in the statement.

“So, I have taken the necessary steps and the direction where we will enforce legal measures during these times when we have greatly exceeded the volume needed to fill up the slack in national rice supply, most particularly in Metro Manila and major urban rice consumption centers,” Dar added.

Dar said at least 2.4 million metric tons of rice have entered the country, which “has gone beyond what is needed by the country.”

“We will protect our small farmers by not allowing additional imports especially this main harvest season. We want them to benefit from the respectable farm-gate prices of palay set by the government through the National Food Authority (NFA),” he said.

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