Senators eye using pork import tariffs as aid to local hog raisers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 9)— Senators are considering filing a bill that would channel the funds raised from pork imports as direct aid to local hog farmers, as they opposed the plan of the Department of Agriculture to import tons of meat subject to ultra-cheap duties.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform on Tuesday rejected anew the DA’s request to raise the minimum access volume to 400,000 metric tons of pork imports, even though hog farmers claim that the deficit is only between 150,000-200,000 MT. Instead, senators backed calls to craft a bill similar to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) that would channel the tariff collections on pork imports to assistance to hog farmers.

"'Yung tariff coming from the importation will be used to help them be competitive na finally, magiging tayong [we can be] self-sufficient in our supply," panel chair Senator Cynthia Villar said, initially calling it a Livestock Competitiveness Enhancement Fund.

"Kapag binagsak natin ang tariff tapos in-increase natin ang importation, wala na rin tayong income to help them (hog raisers) and patay na rin sila –– 'yun ang iniiwasan natin," she also said.

[Translation: If we bring down the tariff and increase the importation, we won't have income to help (hog raisers) and they will die –– that's what we're avoiding]."

RCEF sets aside ₱10 billion yearly until 2024 to assist farmers losing out from the flood of cheaper imported rice under the Rice Tariffication Law. The money is drawn from the duties collected from rice traders.

“Parang hindi justifiable yung increase in MAV (minimum access volume)... Ang basa ko dito talagang kikita yung importer even with the tariffs," Villar said.

[Translation: It seems the increase in MAV is not justifiable... What I see here is that the importers can earn a lot even with the tariffs.]

Villar also noted a report from the National Bureau of Investigation, saying that there seems to be a move to present an “artificial shortage” to justify the demand for cheap imports.

The DA wants to cut the 30-40% tariff on pork imports above 54,000 MT to just between 5-20%. The measure is pending before President Rodrigo Duterte, although Villar said the Chief Executive cannot act on the order until after March 25 when Congress is on recess.

A group of hog raisers, which has ventured into pork imports since last year after its members were forced to cull their pigs due to the local African Swine Fever outbreak, said they are already making good money even if they pay the 40% tariff.

"There is no need for DA or NEDA to reduce tariffs," Edwin Chen, president of the Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines, told lawmakers. "If you do reduce tariffs, we will incur irreparable damage to the local pork producers and we will just give windfall profits to the importers.”

Sen. Francis Pangilinan added that no importer sells at a loss even at the 40% out-quota tariff, so bringing the rate down would only fatten up these traders’ pockets by as much as ₱31 billion.

The committee also supported Pangilinan's request to file a resolution urging the DA to declare a state of emergency in Luzon due to the ASF, which would allow the government to tap more funds to intervene and extend support to hog producers.

The DA said 40 provinces nationwide have been infected with ASF, which forced backyard and commercial hog raisers to kill their pigs to stop the spread of the disease –– limiting local supply in the process.