Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon has called on the Department of Agriculture (DA) and other regulatory offices of the government to revisit their process of issuing importation permits to effectively combat rampant meat smuggling in the country, saying the bureau cannot do it alone.
For decades, the local market has been flooded with cheap smuggled pork and poultry and agricultural products months before the Christmas season, depriving the government of millions of pesos in duties and taxes and putting local farmers at a disadvantage.
“The government should look at different factors that would help protect hog raisers of the country and help them compete fairly with the products of other countries,” Faeldon said over the weekend in a speech before members of the National Federation of Hog Farmers Inc., an umbrella organization of 48 hog farmers associations all over the country.
He explained that the regulatory agencies are responsible for issuing import permits, and that the role of the Customs bureau is only to assess and check the completeness of all the requirements issued by the agencies.
Faeldon pointed out that the regulators should review and simplify their processing of import permits, saying difficulties in acquiring one lead importers to engage in technical smuggling.
“These regulatory offices must then simplify requirements of importers to help us combat possible smuggling of meat products and other goods,” he said.
Faeldon recommended to the Tariff Commission to either abolish the issuance of import permits for offal, the internal organs of butchered animals, or increase tariff rate from 5 percent to 40 percent.
Earlier, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol cited a United Nations report that said bulk of imported meat products that had entered the country was misdeclared as offal.
Offal carry only a 5 percent tariff, as compared to the 40 percent tariff for meat — resulting in a high number of smuggled frozen meat through misdeclaration of meat imports.
“One way of stopping that [smuggling]is for our regulatory offices to work together in endorsing the position that the tariff for offal should be equal to meat tariff at 40 percent. I will strongly support this position,” Faeldon said.
Rampant port smuggling, particularly during the so-called “ber” months, is attributed to high domestic demand for meat products.
Pork smugglers make a lot of money because they get their products very cheap from the source, making it hard for local producers to compete.
According to Faeldon, there are 54 regulatory offices that facilitate trade.
“Only 6 percent of the importation process is under the control of Customs, and the rest are controlled by other regulatory offices. Customs is only responsible for the assessment and collection of revenue, cargo inspection and clearance and border protection,” he said.
BOC players said Faeldon’s claim is only partly true because unabated corruption in the bureau is still the crux of the whole problem.
“We do not disagree with the Commissioner’s position. But it is an open secret in Customs that if an importer or broker will deal in a straightforward manner, Customs people can always find loopholes to delay one’s shipment.” a Customs broker, who requested anonymity, told The Manila Times.
“Money-wise, it will be better if we strike a deal with them to avoid delays in the release of our shipments. Ask any importer or broker, and they will tell you the same story,” the source said.
WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL