THE head of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food vowed that the upper chamber will pass the rice tariffication bill within the month after the Economic Development Cluster’s (EDC) recommended fast-tracking the measure as one of the nonmonetary
The rice tariffication bill, which would convert the country’s quantitative restriction (QR) on rice into tariffs, is seen by the EDC as crucial in arresting the accelerating inflation and rising prices of the staple. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) last week reported a 6.4-percent inflation in August, beating all estimates. All rice varieties also posted double-digit price increases during the month.
“Yes. We will try hard,” Sen. Cynthia A. Villar, committee chairman, told reporters, when asked if senators can pass the bill within the month. She spoke to journalists after the budget hearing of the Department of Agriculture (DA) on Monday.
Villar said her committee has already released its report on the rice tariffication bill, and the measure is already on the Senate floor.
The House of Representatives passed last month on third reading its version of the rice
However, Villar did not say whether her version of the rice tariffication bill includes a provision that would remove the regulatory powers of the National Food Authority (NFA) in relation to imports, particularly its licensing role.
“The things that I will only defend on the floor are the rice tariffication and the rice competitiveness enhancement fund,” she said.
Villar said she would seek a clarification with the Department of Finance (DOF) regarding the removal of the licensing power of the NFA in relation to the tariffication of rice imports.
“From my understanding, when I talked to the DOF, once we pass the rice tariffication [bill], then our rice importation will be liberalized,” she said.
“The NFA will [no longer have the] power to determine importation. That’s why I was shocked when they [DA officials] said that it is [not the case],” she added.
During the DA’s budget hearing, Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Segfredo R. Serrano said the tariffication of rice imports is not tantamount to full liberalization. Despite the conversion of the QR into tariffs, Serrano said the current import regime, where imports are monitored by the NFA, could stay.
“Our commitment after the expiry of our waiver is to tariffy rice. Meaning to say, [we just have to] put a tariff value,” Serrano said. “You put a tariff but the import regime can stay as it is. [We can still have the control] until we touch the mandate of the NFA, which has the import licensing function,” Serrano added.
Full liberalization of the rice sector would entail scrapping the minimum access volume, import licensing power and all administrative measures that control the entry of the staple, according to Serrano.
“The whole point, madam chair, is that when you say tariffy, it doesn’t mean you fully liberalize the sector,” he said.
Nonetheless, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said he will continue to push for the retention of the NFA’s licensing power on rice imports in a post-QR regime.