• Smuggling of agriculture products a big business

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    Over $10-billion worth of agriculture product are being into the Philippines in recent year, with milled rice remaining the top commodity entering the country illegally, a government-funded study showed.

    In the study titled “An Assessment of Smuggling of Selected Agricultural Commodities in the Philippines,” the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) said that during the period 1986 to 2008, about $1.96-billion worth of milled rice, approximately P88 billion at the current peso-dollar rate, were illegally shipped into the country.

    Rice was followed by refined sugar, valued at $448.2 million; beef, $428.8 million; onion, $259.55 million; pork, $117.45 million; chicken, $27.8 million; ginger, $7.8 million; and carrots and turnips, $6.5 million.

    Searca also noted that technical smuggling of agricultural products continues to be widespread to this day, as attested by the ongoing investigation being conducted by the Senate on rice smuggling.

    The research team—composed of team leader Dr. Prudenciano Gordoncillo, Dr. Cesar Quicoy, Prof. Julieta delos Reyes and Dr. Arvin Vista—noted that as early as the mid-1980s, smuggling of agricultural commodities had evolved into a big-time illegal trade.

    The magnitude of technical smuggling in the farming sector correspondingly expanded as the volume of imported agricultural items considerably increased in the 1990s and at a much faster rate in recent years.

    By 2008, the value of smuggled products had ballooned to more than $10 billion annually.

    “The more alarming consequence of smuggling is the threat to domestic industries in terms of risks of exposure to pests and diseases as well as endangering the safety of consumers,” the experts warned.

    The research project was funded by the Department of Agriculture (DA)-Bureau of Agricultural Research and carried out by Searca with the help of experts from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

    The study was the first to bring together government entities concerned with the smuggling of agricultural products, and to draw lessons from the experiences of regulatory agencies, producers and traders.

    Also involved were the bureaus of Plant Industry and Agricultural Statistics (BAS), Bureau of Customs, National Meat Inspection Services, National Veterinary Quarantine Services and the private sector.

    DA Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano, who headed the project’s steering committee, said that the study is a good start as it makes it possible to talk about smuggling with evidence rather than anecdotal stories.

    “The issue of smuggling is a lot more complex than a simple trade problem, because sometimes it is a combination of a lot of factors that determine the extent, flow, intensity and nature of the illegal practice,” Serrano stressed.

    Useful platform
    Searca Director Gil Saguiguit Jr. said that the agency is hoping that the study’s findings and recommendations will serve as a useful guide for instituting policy reforms toward stringent regulations and remedial options to address the problem of smuggling.

    Saguiguit said that Searca and its cooperating institutions are now focusing on such studies as a guide in the formulation of policies that are important to agricultural and rural development.

    During the study, the research team generated primary data through key informant interviews, and focus group discussions. It also gathered from BAS data on domestic agricultural production and consumption.

    The study looked into agricultural goods being illegally traded both at the front door (northeastern Luzon shores) and at the back door of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan. Roundtable discussions were also held in major ports in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.

    Besides studying the quantitative and qualitative aspects of smuggling in the country’s agriculture sector, the team visited and looked into the highly successful anti-smuggling systems of Singapore and Indonesia to draw lessons for possible adoption by the Philippines.

    According to the project, some policies and practices in the Philippine importation system have become “archaic” or antiquated, that smuggling of agricultural commodities has become widespread in recent decades.

    The critical issues and weak aspects of the importation system should be addressed through legislative actions, administrative orders at the Cabinet secretaries and bureau directors’ levels, and procedural changes at the field level, the study emphasized.

    Specifically, the regulatory and revenue functions of the Bureau of Customs should also be rationalized to make them responsive to the realities and exigencies of the times, the study asserted.

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