• Villar eyes probe of overpriced rice imports

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    THE Senate committee on agriculture and food is considering an investigation of the reported overpricing on rice imports by National Food Authority (NFA) although it admits that it needs to be careful since the deal involves the government of Vietnam.

    Sen. Cynthia Villar pointed out that the committee is very open to hear anyone who has information about the country’s rice situation, to address various problems hounding the rice supply.

    The senator also pointed out that the committee should also be careful because the committee doesn’t want to drag other countries on the alleged overpricing of rice imports.

    Villar was referring to the rice importation deal between the Philippine government and the Southern Vietnam Food Corp., earlier reported to be overpriced.

    Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito for his part insisted that the committee should seriously look into the reported overpricing of imported rice because it distorts the domestic pricing of rice.

    Ejercito said that the government should not hesitate to investigate a government-to-government transaction noting that it is important for the committee to find out the truth behind the allegation.

    “NFA has a lot of explaining to do. We should not allow these things to continue because it is the farmers that are greatly affected by it,” Ejercito said referring to the reported overpricing.

    The issue of overpriced rice gave rise to the allegation that the NFA has been practicing its
    own rice importation monopoly, using public funds, while disallowing private sector participation.

    NFA’s actions are said to run against the Food Staples Self-Sufficiency Road Map approved by President Benigno Aquino 3rd and the economic managers, where it was provided that private sector participation in rice importation should increase, while NFA imports should decrease.

    Based on data, the NFA on February 2011, imported 200,000 metric tons (9 percent of the previous year’s), leaving the bulk of imports to the private sector (660,000 tons).

    The NFA further reduced its rice imports on April 2012 to only 120,000 metric tons, allowing private sector to import 380,000 metric tons.

    In 2013, NFA rice imports rose to 705,700 metric tons (205,700 March/April + 500,000 Nov 26), while private sector importation was pegged at 50,000 metric tons.

    Lawyer Argee Guevarra, who was also present in the hearing, said that the Department of Justice (DOJ) already acted on his allegation regarding the overpricing issue however he is not sure if the DOJ is willing to release its findings.

    For her part, Villar said that the committee will ask the DOJ to provide them with the copy of its findings so that the panel would have a basis in probing the issue.

    Restrictions valid
    Meanwhile, Solicitor Gen. Francis Jardeleza, during the senate panel hearing also maintained that the country’s imposition of Quantitative Restriction (QR) on rice imports is valid adding that that it is the position of the Philippine government.

    Jardeleza issued the clarification in reaction to The Manila Times report, which cited Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s opinion that rice quotas imposed by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and NFA allowing government to monopolize the importing of rice may have violated the terms set by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

    De Lima in a 12-page confidential opinion dated December 16, 2013, advised Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and the NFA that quantitative restriction on rice can no longer be imposed until negotiations for its extension are concluded.

    On Tuesday Jardeleza insisted that the stand of the government is that the QR is valid and the justice secretary supports it.

    “The [DOJ] secretary supports the stand of the government,” Jardeleza said in an interview after the Senate panel hearing.

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