• Liberalized rice imports sought

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    Reacting to sharp spikes in rice price and taking stock of expert advice on supposed flaws in the National Food Authority’s (NFA) functions, Rep. Delph Gan Lee of Agri (Agri-Agra Para sa Magsasakang Pilipinas) party-list filed a bill in the House of Representatives seeking to rationalize the agency’s role relative
    to the country’s food sufficiency program.

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    Affirming expert opinions that the “NFA monopoly on rice importation” has adversely contributed to the price spikes of the staple grain, Gan Lee filed House Bill (HB) 2936, or the “National Food Authority Rationalization Act of 2013,” phasing out the NFA importation function and “exclusively” transferring this to “private sector entities and farmers’ organizations, subject to appropriate tariffs and quotas.”

    “The NFA has both regulatory and proprietary functions over the grains sector. It sets import quantities and also works as the lone importer of the authorized volume of imports,” said the lawmaker.

    “Such interventions in the market over the years created severe distortions in the rice market, contributing, among others, to the poor productivity of the rice sector over the years, the rice supply gap, and the increasing cost of government actions to fill such gaps and artificially stabilize rice prices and supply,” she further explained.

    According to the legislator, a study conducted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has “further revealed that under the NFA monopoly over rice importation, Filipino consumers have ended up paying more for rice than they would have had to under a free trade regime.”

    The alleged monopoly is reflected in this year’s importation statistics where the Department of Agriculture (DA), through the NFA, nearly doubled government imports from 120,000 metric tons (MT) in 2012 to 205,700 MT as of April this year. On the other hand, private sector importation was reduced to three percent of this year’s total’s imports from 76 percent last year—a 98 percent reduction in actual quantity.

    But just as the DA has insisted on its “rice self-sufficiency strategy” of limiting private sector importations and coursing these instead to the DFA, rice prices last month hit an all-time high, according to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS).

    BAS latest figures show the average price of regular milled rice soared to P36.04 per kilogram in September, increasing 23 percent from P29.38 at the height of the rice crisis in 2008.

    Both the Food Staples Self-sufficiency Program (FSSP) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) have consistently recommended to “encourage the private sector’s primary role in importation,” despite the DA’s implementation to the contrary.

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