Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia maintained the government would import more rice to comply with a World Trade Organization agreement to lift barriers on the staple food despite opposition from the Department of Agriculture. PPD/Toto Lozano
MANILA, Philippines – Trouble could be brewing between the departments of Agriculture and of Economic Development and Planning over the country’s rice imports.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia maintained the government would import more rice to comply with a World Trade Organization agreement to lift barriers on the staple food despite opposition from the Department of Agriculture.
“There are some moves in some sectors to extend again the QR (quantitative restrictions) on rice but we oppose. The economic ministers are opposing this extension,” Pernia said during the Smart Agriculture Forum yesterday.
“We are not going to be prevailed over by other members of the Cabinet,” he added.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, on the other hand, has made public its stand on seeking another extension of the so-called QR by least two more years.
“It’s not good to extend it for the fourth time, it doesn’t make us look good that we keep on extending it,” Pernia said.
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Piñol, however, has been resolute on the issue, insisting that removing the QR will be disastrous to local rice farmers, whom he claims are still not ready to compete with cheap imports.
In 2014, the Philippines under former president Benigno Aquino won approval of the WTO to keep import restrictions for three more years to June 2017.
Pernia, however, emphasized the removal of QR would result to lower prices, benefiting both consumers and farmers.
“It’s going to be better for consumers and it’s going to exert pressure on farmers and to others involved in the industry to not get into a vicious cycle where nothing gets done,” Pernia said.
“The competition is always good for people to get their acts together and deliver results. That should be our position,” he added.
Cost of producing palay (unmilled rice) in neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia is around P6 to P10 per kilo compared to the significantly higher P10-12 per kilo in the Philippines.
Pernia and Piñol have not yet met to discuss the lifting of the QR. The Agri chief is currently out of the country and cannot be reached for further comment.
“We think differently but we are friends. There’s no Cabinet meeting yet regarding the extension. We will talk more about it,” Pernia said.
Although the local agriculture sector ranks second in ASEAN in terms of average share of government expenditure in total budget, Pernia said the industry remained in bad shape.
“Investment in agriculture has not been that measly, it just did not seem to translate into boosting the sector. This may indicate that we are not investing the right amount in the right areas,” he said.
Agriculture has been contracting for the last five quarters with the latest 2.1 percent decline in the second quarter of the year.
“It is not so much whether we should further increase investment in agriculture but more on how to strategically and smartly channel investment in areas that will enhance the sector’s competitiveness in the face of new challenges,” Pernia said.