A Senate probe to look into possible effects of a plan to lift quantitative import restrictions on rice to consumers as well as 1.23 million rice farmers in the country has been pushed by Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto.
Recto filed Senate Resolution 146, directing the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the proposed removal of the quantitative import restrictions on rice toward ensuring accessible rice supply in the country and protecting the interest and welfare of local rice farmers.
The senator in his resolution noted that while lifting import restrictions could reduce rice prices by as much as 27.3 percent it would also erode incomes of rice farmers by 29.2 percent, which is devastating especially for agricultural workers who could barely make both ends meet.
The head of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and other economic managers have been calling for the lifting of the quantitative import restrictions on rice, saying that it would bring rice prices down and raise farmers’ incomes as they will be enticed to shift to more profitable crops.
Agriculture officials, however, have expressed initial reservations on the plan, especially if such a policy will be implemented without providing safety nets that will aid the farm sector during the transition period.
Recto noted that because no public hearings on the proposal have been called, the Senate should provide the venue where its far-reaching repercussions can be discussed with all stakeholders present.
“We have to listen to the conflicting concerns of the rice-producing poor on the one hand and the rice-consuming poor on the other,” he said
Each Filipino consumed an average of 114.27 kilograms of rice in 2012, with those in the lower and extremely lower socio-economic classes consuming 113.70 kilograms and 109.53 kilograms, respectively.
The planed lifting of the quantitative import restrictions on rice next year is in line with the country’s commitments under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The Philippines’ accession to WTO in 1994 was made with the belief that such action would bring about economic benefits through increased efficiency of industries required by exposure to global competition.
Since the Philippines’ entry, the country was able to secure WTO approval to postpone the implementation of the WTO Agreement on rice import restriction thrice, pushing the rescission of quantitative import restrictions on rice to June 2017.
The WTO allowed the Philippines to extend the exemption in order to provide more time for local farmers to prepare for free trade.
The Philippine rice industry, however, is yet to achieve a level of competitiveness that would match those of other rice-producing countries.
Recto said the liberalization of rice trade without ample and appropriate financial and technical support from the government would not result in improved competitiveness of Filipino rice farmers.