DA urged to prepare for unrestricted rice importation

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Agriculture (DA) was urged yesterday to prepare for the unrestricted importation of rice beginning June next year, when volume and tariff restrictions are lifted.

The lifting of restrictions is part of the country’s compliance with the World Trade Organization agreement, to which it is a signatory.

Mindoro Occidental Rep. Josephine Sato said Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol should come up with plans to cushion the impact of the import limits removal on the lives of rice farmers, their families and the farming sector.

“It’s less than six months before our farmers start to feel the impact of imported rice flooding the market. The DA and other government agencies should prepare for the adverse repercussions of unlimited importation,” Sato stressed.

Lifting the restrictions, she pointed out, would mean that importers are free to flood the market with cheap rice from Thailand, Vietnam and other foreign sources.

The scenario could lead to the gradual death of the local rice farming sector, which is considered inefficient compared to Vietnam and Thailand, from where the Philippines has been importing rice, she added.

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Sato believes that the big rice-producing provinces – Mindoro, Isabela, Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan – would bear the brunt of the adverse effects of unrestricted and tax-free rice importation.

She wanted to know what help the DA and other concerned agencies could extend to rice farmers and their families.

Among the solutions she sees are providing farmers with free or subsidized inputs, like seeds and fertilizer and free irrigation, and training them on farming in general, to wean them out of rice planting if this would no longer be profitable.

A special fund could also be set up out of the previous and current rice import tariffs to finance the safety nets for the affected farmers, Sato said.

According to farmers’ groups and rice traders, farm inputs in Thailand and Vietnam like seeds, fertilizer and pesticides are cheaper, thus the Thai and Vietnamese rice farmers are able to sell their produce at a much lower price.

They said Thai and Vietnamese farmers also harvest more per hectare because of irrigation and modern technology.