With Washington pledging full support for Manila’s bid to extend its special treatment on rice, the Department of Agriculture (DA) expects to acquire consensus with interested countries to operate under new quantitative restrictions (QRs) until 2017.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala told reporters that the governments of the Philippines and the United States have reached “substantive agreement” over Manila’s request for a five-year extension of the special treatment on rice.
“We are very close in obtaining the nod of the interested countries. We expect the World Trade Organization’s Committee on Trade and Goods to finally approve our request when we meet for a special meeting this June,” Alcala said.
The DA chief said they were able to get the nod of the US government following the state visit of President Barack Obama.
“The good thing is, they did not request for any concessions for the importation of certain products,” Alcala said, dismissing the issue of the possible entry into the local market of more meat products from the US.
For the Philippines to get the nod on the QR extension, rice-producing countries affected by the restriction may request for concessions or market access for the importation of certain products not necessarily limited to rice.
To recall, Washington in 2011 blocked Manila’s bid to limit the entry of foreign rice in the local market, a regulation meant to protect Filipino farmers from competing with cheap and subsidized foreign rice, in protest of the DA’s Administrative Order 22 which imposed stricter rules on meat imports.
The US Department of Agriculture asked the DA to suspend AO 22, saying it affected US exports of meat and poultry to the Philippines.
“It’s no longer an issue. They said that they would support us in our QR with no conditions,” Alcala said. With the support of the US, the Philippines expects the three remaining interested countries—Australia, Canada and Thailand—to follow suit.
Last year, the Philippines acquired the endorsement of China, India, and Indonesia to continue its QR implementation.
A local rice watchdog said that an extension of the special treatment on rice should be an opportunity for the Philippine government to step up domestic support services and maximize big public investments to increase rice production and improve farmers’ income.
“This should prepare us well for the lifting of the QR in the next few years,” said Aurora Regalado, convenor of Rice Watch and Action Network (R1). “Domestic reform should also be enhanced to eliminate rice smuggling so the QR would not be for naught.”
The action network supports the QR extension, saying it is important in the country’s bid to achieve rice self-sufficiency, and that allowing liberal importation will surely hamper local farmer’s motivation to produce more for the domestic requirement.
R1 campaigned for the extension of QR on rice in 2005, citing the unfair competition of the free influx of imported rice, aggravating the poor state of local farmers and the rice industry while the country continued to struggle for rice self-sufficiency.