DA to review agricultural import permits anew

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The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Wednesday said it would conduct a second review of all Sanitary Phytosanitary (SPS) permits issued to importers, since the cartel in the garlic industry has resurfaced.

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Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said he would issue an administrative order moving the issuance of importation permits of agricultural commodities under his office.

“This time we will be very strict in scrutinizing each application before a permit is given,” Piñol said during a news conference.

He admitted there were lapses in the previous review of the SPS clearance.

The DA suspended in November last year the issuance of SPS clearances or import permits for revalidation to weed out unscrupulous traders.

Piñol also ordered the Bureau of Plant Industry to come up with measures to counter the activities of the garlic cartel, which have been manipulating prices of the commodity to the detriment of farmers.

After six months, however, the garlic cartel is back and Sen. Cyntia Villar is not happy about it.

Villar, who is the head of the Senate agriculture and food committee, claimed businessmen had intentionally reduced garlic importation to justify price hikes. She added that the non-importation of the garlic requirement distorted the law of supply and demand.

The lawmaker was dismayed by the practice of agriculture officials issuing import permits to traders who do not really bring in the required volume of garlic into the country.

On Wednesday, Piñol said he blacklisted some 43 “traditional” importers for not utilizing import permits. The goal was to prevent other importers from conniving and manipulating prices of the commodity.

He lamented that the 43 traders were given permits to import 70,100 metric tons (MT) of garlic this year, but they only brought in 19,252 MT.

“Ang naging problema ngayon kasi ayaw nila mag-import dahil mataas daw kasi prices,” Piñol said. “At the time that we needed them to import, they did not import. Ito ‘yung sign na may cartel.”

“Kung talagang seryoso kang importer at alam mo ang responsibilidad mo, hindi ka fair-weather friend,” he added.

Piñol was quick to absolve DA officials from the issue, saying no one from his department was involved in the cartel.

“Are there cartels? Yes. Are people from DA involved? No. And I am sure of that,” he said.
Addressing the age-old problem of cartels in the garlic industry is not an easy task, the Cabinet official noted.

“As of the moment, what we can do is to blacklist them, para bawasan ‘yung kanilang influence on dictating prices,” he added.

The DA chief said they would now require owners of trading companies to personally appear before the Office of the Secretary before the SPS application would be approved.

The move to have the sole and exclusive discretion in the approval of new SPS clearance application was previously questioned by several traders and farmers group, saying the process may be prone to corruption.

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