PH must limit rice imports to help local farmers – Villar

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The Philippines must impose limits on rice imports to help local farmers and fight cartels, the Senate committee on agriculture and food chairman said.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 29) — The government should limit the volume of rice imports in 2020 to stop cartels from manipulating supply, the Senate committee on agriculture and food chairman said Tuesday.

Senator Cynthia Villar said the country should only import its annual supply deficit, which is around one million metric tons. She added that cartels are to blame for the low prices of unmilled rice or palay, and most cartel groups are based in the rice-rich Central Luzon.

"We only produce 93 percent, so we import seven percent which is about one million metric tons," Villar said. "Kaya parang nagkakagulo dahil ang cartel parang nacocontrol nila ang supply ngayon [There seems to be a problem now because these cartels appear to be seizing control of supply]."

This statement came seven months after the passage of the rice tariffication law that removed the limits in the quantity of imported rice, and in its place the imposition of corresponding tariffs.

Villar said the Department of Agriculture should be stricter in releasing sanitary and phytosanitary permits for importers.

"Pahirapin ang phytosanitary permit... Kapag pinahirap nila 'yun, then malilimit ang importation," Villar said.

Villar said putting a cap on the volume of imported rice will help farmers compete. With the loan, training, machinery, seedings and other assistance under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, local farmers can become competitive within two years, she added.

Farmers have lamented how the influx of cheap imported rice hurt lowered their income, with the price of unmilled rice plunging historic lows because of oversupply.