PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. rejected the proposal of his economic managers to temporarily reduce rice tariffs due to the projected downward trend in the international prices of the staple.
The chief executive made the decision following a meeting with the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
“Tariffs are generally lowered when the price is going up,” said Marcos, who is also the concurrent secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA).
“It was not the right time to lower the tariff rates because the projection of world rice prices is that it will go down,” he added.
Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan had proposed the reduction of the 35-percent rice tariff following the surge in domestic rice prices.
Farmer groups had opposed the proposal as the entry of more rice imports could depress farmgate prices at a time when planters are already harvesting their crop.
During the sectoral meeting, Balisacan and other agriculture officials agreed with the President’s decision to not lower tariff rates at this time.
In a separate interview, Senior Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo F. Panganiban said he “personally opposes” the reduction of rice tariffs, as only the traders would benefit from it.
The DA earlier noted the spike in rice prices despite the sufficient supply of the staple. The chief executive attributed to smugglers and hoarders who manipulated prices.
To help stabilize the price of the food staple, Marcos issued last September 5 Executive Order (EO) No. 39, which imposed a price cap of P41 per kilogram (kg) for regular milled rice (RMR) and P45 per kg for well-milled rice (WMR) nationwide.
The economic managers said, however, that they were not consulted by the President prior to the issuance of the EO.
Marcos said he and other government officials will have to study the lifting of EO 39 carefully.
Sought for his comment about the price ceiling on rice, Panganiban said the measure can be lifted within a week’s time since the impact of the price cap has only been felt in the past two or three days.
Rally vs rice tariff cut
On Tuesday, various agricultural groups held their second rally in front of the Department of Finance (DOF) to denounce its proposal to reduce rice tariffs to as low as zero percent.
The groups reiterated their opposition to the tariff reduction proposal as well as their calls for Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan to resign for supporting the tariff reduction measure.
“There is no rice shortage, therefore there is no basis to reduce tariff or flood the market with imported rice,” the groups, led by Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The President’s message is clear: there is no rice shortage and there is enough rice but gaps in distribution disrupt market availability,” they added.
The Tariff Commission has already held its public hearing regarding the proposal of the Foundation for Economic Freedom to reduce rice tariffs to 10 percent from the current 35 percent.