Senate eyes private-sector
agenda vs food smuggling

In file photo: Imported carrots are on display at the Pasay Public Market. The Department of Agriculture has urged consumers to be meticulous when buying vegetables from the market, as undocumented shipments of agricultural produce are reportedly being sold in the country.

SENATORS on Monday lined up recommendations to improve the country’s trade system to curb agricultural smuggling, such as implementing a sound data system and empowering government agencies to seize contraband food products.

The Senate Committee of the Whole, presided by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, resumed its oversight hearing on the unabated agricultural smuggling in the country on Monday.

The hearing, which lasted for three hours, ended with preliminary recommendations that included proposals from industry stakeholders on how the government could improve its efforts against smuggling.

In wrapping up the hearing, Sotto vowed that Senate probers won’t stop until the rampant food smuggling is resolved, setting up meetings with private sector groups on their concrete recommendations to fight the menace.

“We have numerous laws in place,” the Senate leader observed, reminding concerned authorities that “what is needed is full implementation.”

The Senate, he said, has been trying to help, but concerned “agencies must do more to protect farmers.”

He lamented, speaking mostly in Filipino, “Behind all these, there’s always big money and that is what is disgusting.” Earlier, the lawmaker lamented no food smuggler has been arrested.

He cited earlier data that at least P6 billion was lost “from misdeclaration or technical smuggling of agricultural products which can infect humans and livestock.”

Nonetheless, he vowed:  “We will not end this investigation and exercise our right of congressional oversight until we put an end to this perennial problem.”

At the same time, he also assured that “we will talk to the private sector for their proposed solutions.”


The recommendations raised at the hearing included strengthening of interagency coordination efforts against smuggling as he noted that the current collaboration among government agencies are not sufficient to curtail smuggling.

“Since we do not have an interagency corporation, the interagency efforts have resulted in pinpointing, what Sen. [Panfilo] Lacson described as ‘ping-pong’ strategy,” Sotto said.

Sotto said agencies like the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) must have police powers so that they can seize smuggled goods outright without prior coordination with the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

During the hearing, it was revealed that the DA and the DTI do not have police powers to immediately seize smuggled products under present rules and regulations. The two agencies must flag the alleged smuggled goods to the BOC, which will then determine if the goods were indeed illegally imported.

“We want that all of them have power to confiscate the widespread proliferation of contraband goods in the market. In that way, our efforts to help the affected farmers would be hastened,” Sotto said.

Sotto said the Senate will also call the attention of the Department of Health (DOH) to be part of interagency efforts against smuggling since the reported smuggled carrots in the country are laced with formaldehyde.

Data trade

Another recommendation that came up from the hearing was improving the country’s data trade system, including the automation of import and export figures, to allow the government to monitor the entry of farm goods real-time.

During the hearing, Agriculture Assistant Secretary Frederico Laciste admitted that the DA’s data system is not yet centralized, thus, resulting in delayed analysis on the arrival of farm products in the country.

“One of our recommendations is to have fully automated trade transactions and monitoring. Currently, we do not have a way of monitoring how much volume has arrived in contrast to the volume issued as per sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances,” Laciste told the committee.

Sen. Cynthia A. Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, proposed that the DA require importers to provide them with real-time reports regarding their import arrivals or utilization of SPS-ICs.

If the importers refuse to submit the reports, the DA must not issue new SPS-ICs to them, Villar added.

“Tell them that they have to give you real-time arrival data. You can enforce that because you are issuing import permits. If they do not want to follow then don’t issue SPS-ICs to them in the future,” she said.

Benguet farmers

During the hearing, Agot Balanoy of the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas disclosed that Benguet farmers are losing P2.5 million per day due to smuggled vegetables.

Balanoy pointed out that they have observed a 20-percent to 40-percent decline in daily orders since last year. Balanoy emphasized that the entry of smuggled vegetables in the country depresses farm-gate prices to the point that farmers are forced to give away their produce.

For example, the price of carrots from August to December last year ranged from P7 to P95 per kilogram for big-sized carrots, while it was zero to P50 per kilogram for medium-sized, Balanoy said. From January to present, the price of big-sized carrots range from P7 to P65 per kilogram while medium-sized ones range from zero to P35 per kilogram, she added.

International Trade Centre (ITC) data analyzed by BusinessMirror showed that China exported $4.679 million worth of fresh or chilled carrots and turnips to the Philippines from January to November of last year. However, Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data showed that the country did not import a single carrot and turnip from China during the 11-month period.

The ITC data is  based on General Customs Administrative of China statistics while PSA data is based on documents from the Bureau of Customs. With a report by Butch Fernandez


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