Private rice traders and importers can continue importation of the grains, as long as they pay the right taxes, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said on Tuesday.
In fact, DA Undersecretary Dante Delima said that the agency is encouraging traders to take advantage of the remaining 145,000 metric tons minimum access volume (MAV) under the country specific quota (CSQ).
MAV refers to the minimum volume of farm produce, such as rice, allowed to enter into the Philippines at reduced tariffs.
At present, the Philippines is allowing 350,000 metric tons (MT) of rice to enter the country annually at reduced tariff rate of 40 percent, while shipments outside MAV pay higher rates.
“As of now, we still have more than 145,000 MT that the private sector can import before the year ends. We are not stopping them from importing the CSQ volume, as long as they pay the right taxes,” Delima said.
Under MAV, some 163,000 MT were allotted to the so-called country-specific quota—comprising of 98,000 MT for Thailand, 25,000 MT for China, 25,000 MT for India and 15,000 MT for Australia.
“These are the country of origin where private sectors can import their rice,” Delima said, in reaction to reports that the Philippines will import an additional 100,000 MT of rice to stamp out and erase the influences of a rice cartel.
Earlier reports showed that the National Food Authority (NFA) is set to import the volume from either Vietnam or Thailand in the coming months to lower prices of the grains.
But Delima assured that there would be no government-led importation before the end of the year, noting that the National Rice Program continued to record strong harvest nationwide.
He also said that the DA is busy in preparing farmers in major rice-producing provinces for the implementation of the quick-turn-around program, which would allow three planting cycles this year.
NFA spokesperson Rex Estoperez said that there have been no discussions within the NFA Council for a supposed government-to-government procurement of rice from either Vietnam or Thailand.
“There are no plans for an additional importation. This has never been discussed,” he said in reaction to earlier reports stating NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag has met with agency managers to discuss the matter.
Estoperez also stressed that the NFA alone cannot unilaterally decide on importation, noting that has to be discussed with the entire NFA Council.
“Importation of rice will have to be discussed with the interagency NFA Council to see if there really is a need for us to bring in additional volume of rice. There should also be a set budget for the importation, which should be approved by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala,” he explained.
The agriculture department earlier said that it expects a surge in the number of takers for the MAV, as the government stops rice importation this year. The government is implementing the MAV scheme, a form of trade barrier, to protect local farmers from the influx of cheaper rice.
However, there has been massive underutilization of the importation window due to the steep in-quota duty.
Over the past few years, the country has reduced its rice imports in line with its goal of self-sufficiency in the staple after 2013.
Formerly the world’s biggest rice importer, Manila has allowed the importation of some 500,000 MT of rice for 2012. Of the total volume, 120,000 MT was purchased by the NFA to serve as a buffer stock during the lean season.
In 2011, the country imported 860,000 MT of rice—with the private sector importing 600,000 MT; farmers’ groups, 60,000; and the NFA, 200,000. For 2010, the Philippines imported a record 2.45 million MT.