• Agriculture dept. denies cartel behind onion, garlic price increase

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    The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Wednesday denied accusations by consumer watchdogs that the recent increase in the prices of onion and garlic in the local market is a result of cartel trading.

    Clarito Barron, DA-Bureau of Plant Industry director, said the accusations of Kilusan ng Pilipinong Mamimili Laban sa Kahirapan and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption are “untrue” and “baseless,” noting that there are existing consultation processes in the issuance of importation permits.

    “We are not favoring any importer,” Barron said in a telephone interview.

    The BPI chief said appropriate import permits — technically known as sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) import clearance — are issued only when there is a need to stabilize the supply and prices of particular agricultural commodities.

    “In fact, we have the Task Force Alium, or the Onion Action Team of the BPI, to review the movement and prices of the commodity to determine whether we need to approve any application for importation of onions and garlic,” Barron said.

    The task force is comprised of representatives from BPI, Bureau of Agricultural and Research, High Value Commercial Crops Program, Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, Agricultural Marketing Assistance Service, Bureau of Customs, Local Government Units, Regional Field Units, as well as the private sector representatives and farmers organizations.

    Earlier, Kampila and the VACC called on President Benigno Aquino 3rd to look into the cartel which controls the issuance of importation permits for onion and garlic, resulting in skyrocketing prices of the commodities.

    The groups also said that they have filed charges to the Office of the Ombudsman against Barron and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Prices Act.

    They said that the price of onions has soared to over P100 per kilo because the DA-BPI has allowed a certain “Lea Cruz” to monopolize trade of the commodity.

    Barron, however, said that they have not approved any importation permit this year.

    From August to September 2012, following consultations with farmers and industry leaders, BPI allowed 62 accredited importers to bring in 9,100 metric tons of yellow onions, he said. Only 7,479 MT has arrived in the country.

    From September to December 2012, the task force allowed the importation of 8,500 MT of red onions, but the 62 accredited traders could ship only 7,254 MT.

    “If the supply of a particular commodity is inadequate and its price surges upwards, government intervenes by issuing permits to import said particular commodity. This is done upon consultation with farmers, private traders, and government representatives,” Barron said.

    JAMES KONSTANTIN GALVEZ

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