Marcos rejects proposed tariff cuts on imported rice

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 26) — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday said it is “not the right time” to reduce the tariff imposed on imported rice, rejecting a controversial proposal by his economic managers.

The Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said Marcos arrived at the decision with other officials, including National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio Balisacan who was among those who previously recommended the move.

“We decided with the agriculture and economic managers that…it was not the right time to lower the tariff rates because the projection of world rice prices is that it will go down,” the PCO said, quoting the president, who is concurrently Agriculture secretary.

“So, this is not the right time to lower tariffs," Marcos added. "Tariffs are generally lowered when the price is going up."

Marcos made the remarks shortly after a sectoral meeting in Malacañang, where NEDA presented updates on the proposed rice tariff reduction, with inputs from the Department of Finance, the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Department of Budget and Management.

The PCO said that during the meeting, Balisacan — along with Agriculture Undersecretaries Leocadio Sebastian and Mercedita Sombilla — agreed it would not be wise to cut tariffs due to the global forecast on the prices of the staple.

In moving to cut the taxes, Balisacan and Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno earlier cited the need to arrest the surge in rice prices.

Diokno said the DOF wants the government to temporarily slash the 35% rice import tariff rates to 0% or bring it down to a maximum of 10%.

However, several agriculture groups have resisted the proposal, which they see as a “death sentence” for Filipino farmers.

The groups said it would only mean higher profits for importers “in the guise of taming inflation” and would threaten local producers.

They also argued that slashing tariff rates would not benefit the poor, claiming that as much as 85% of imports are premium-grade rice targeted for well-off buyers.

READ: Agri groups: Axe Diokno, Balisacan over proposal to cut rice tariff, price cap remarks

Meanwhile, asked if the government plans to lift the nationwide price ceiling on rice, Marcos said they will still have to study this carefully.

Under Executive Order. No. 39, which took effect on Sept. 5, regular milled rice may only be sold for up to ₱41 per kilo, while the price cap on well-milled rice is at ₱45 per kilo.