THE Department of Agriculture (DA) has created a new unit that will directly inspect imports at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to fight smuggling.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the newly-formed Agriculture and Fisheries Trade Facilitation Unit will be stationed in different points of entry or Customs zones in the country to lessen the possibility of smuggling, which has been the bane of local growers and producers.

The creation of a new unit was done after the DA recalled and validated the SPS Import Clearance Certificates for meat and poultry products.

Piñol assured the public that there will be adequate meat and poultry supply in the market despite the apparent restrictions imposed by the DA on importers because of the discovery of the unscrupulous practice of some importers to “recycle” SPS Import Clearance Certificates issued.

Importers have nothing to fear from these twin moves to curb technical smuggling of agricultural products, he said.

As proof, he noted that the DA has revalidated 2,375 SPS Import Clearance Certificates as of 4:00 p.m. last Saturday.

“If they are legitimate and law-abiding importers, they should welcome this, because this would actually cleanse their ranks,” he said.

"We have to do this to protect the interest of government which is being deprived of the appropriate tariffs from smugglers,” he added.

He said the DA has to ensure the safety of consumers and the environment.

To allay fears of possible spoilage of frozen products, the DA has ordered their release, requiring only an affidavit of undertaking from their importers.

Piñol said the creation of the new DA unit is based on Section 12b of the Food Safety Act of 2013 which states that imported foods shall undergo cargo inspection and clearance procedures by the DA and the Department of Health (DOH) at the first port of entry to determine compliance with national regulations.

He said this inspection procedure will be conducted by the DA unit before the BOC conducts its own assessment of these shipments.

“This inspection by the DA and the DOH shall always take place prior to the assessment for tariff and other charges by the Bureau of Customs,” according to the Act.

Piñol has tapped Mike Laurel, a former police general, to head the AFTFU, which will also be composed of representatives from the Bureau of Animal Industry, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, National Meat Inspection Service, and Bureau of Plant Industry, and the Philippine National Police, among others. (SDR/Sunnex)