THE Philippines is ready to operate in an environment without quantitative restrictions on rice imports next year, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said in a statement on Wednesday.
Major initiatives to support the rice sector are either in place or about to be established, the Cabinet official noted.
Whether the special treatment on rice is extended or allowed to expire in 2017, Piñol said the Department of Agriculture is determined to support the rice sector as the cornerstone of the country’s food security policy.
“Understand that if we want to extend, it should have been two years ago. We are asking for two more years, but this may not pass,” Piñol said.
Duterte’s economic team – Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, NEDA Director General Ernesto Pernia and consultant Ciel Habito – support the lifting of the QR on rice to liberalize trade.
Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco was also quoted as saying he favors the scrapping of the National Food Authority and letting the special treatment on rice expire.
Piñol has appealed for an additional two-year leeway, saying that the farmer sector needs more time to be more competitive.
The QR limits the volume of goods traded by a country. The Philippines was granted an initial exemption because rice as a commodity is highly sensitive in nature.
The deadline for the Philippines has been extended twice – in 2005 and in 2015 – and a waiver was obtained for another extension to July 2017.
Manila limits to 805,000 metric tons the amount of rice allowed to enter the country under the minimum access volume (MAV) allowed to enter the Philippines at reduced tariffs of 35 percent. Shipments outside the MAV pay higher rates and must be approved by the National Food Authority.
With the support of President Rodrigo Duterte and Congress, the DA will be able to put in place the necessary programs that will put the country on the path to sustained food security and a more progressive rice sector, Piñol said.
“In preparation of the eventually, just in case, that the QR on rice would not prevail in the decision making in the Cabinet. We are prepared for that,” the DA chief said.
Piñol is also pushing for the rural infrastructure program, particularly the farm-to market-roads component and farm mechanization to lower production cost, increase efficiency and improve the agility in adjusting to extreme climate episodes within the term of the Duterte administration.
Sources at the Department of Agriculture, however, said no concrete plan for the rice sector has been laid down since Piñol took over five months ago.
“Wala pa nga mancom [management committee]meeting. Paano n’ya nasabing may plano na without even consulting the stakeholders and regional offices responsible for rice production,” the source said, requesting not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the subject.
“We also have to wait for the PDP [Philippine Development Plan] meeting next year. So wala pa talagang projections on rice production. Wala pang clear policy bukod sa general statement sa QR,” he added.
Another official said the government will have a hard time achieving rice self-sufficiency goals by 2019 with the pace that the new administration is going.
“We are having a hard time with planning and projections kasi puro sa Facebook naka-post. If he wants something done, he should issue a memorandum, then we could do the necessary inputs,” another source privy to such matters said.
New data gathering
Piñol, who prefers “gut feel” and “visual appreciation” to calculate productivity, has yet to come up with official figures and targets on rice production.
In fact, the DA chief is pushing for a new farm data gathering scheme, saying that current government data collection is “flawed and inaccurate.”
“We have started to conduct the food and national validation of agricultural statistics, which I’ve proven inaccurate and outdated. I believe we cannot do sound planning if the data and statistics we use and rely on are not accurate,” he said in a press conference on Tuesday.
He intends to employ drone technology for manually counting trees, and a village-level approach for a more accurate reporting of agricultural production.