Saturday, September 21, 2019

Tell it to SunStar: Rice tariff law vs. food security

PHILIPPINE Network of Food Security Programmes condemns President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s signing of the Rice Tariffication Bill. This just justifies that there is no hope for the Philippines to achieve food security. Hence, it will further liberalize the Philippine rice industry by replacing quantitative restrictions due to uncontrolled rice imports, and will displace rice farmers and worsen poverty and hunger. It will not resolve the Filipino’s problem on high prices of rice and other agricultural commodities, but will only worsen the inaccessibility to buy food for their families. The law is extremely in favor to rice cartels, traders and capitalists and not to common Filipinos, especially the farming sector, who are suffering due to extreme and unprecedented economic instability.

The government is using high inflation to justify rice sector liberalization according to long-standing demands of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and big foreign agricultural exporters. Under the conditions of neo-liberal GATT-WTO guidelines, all country signatories can only “monitor” the flow of economic mobility. “Regulation” and “control” is within the task of the international body, not local body. For the past years, the Philippine government intervention in the rice market is lessened while quantitative restrictions on rice imports are “replaced” with “tariffs.”

The Rice Tariffication Law removed strong, decisive and tough government control on all agricultural commodities and obliged domestic markets to join and spend unnecessary resources to global rice market and competition. The law is a burden to all Filipinos especially the 60 million poorest of the poor families. On the other hand, uncontrolled rice imports will drive rice farmers into worse poverty. If the Philippines imports two million metric tons of palay, for instance, some 500,000 of around 2.4 million rice farmers will be adversely affected. Even the government’s own Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) projects a 29 percent decline in rice farmers’ incomes from a P4 decrease in palay farm gate prices when rice tariffication is implemented.

In a country where landlessness, joblessness and homelessness are proliferating, the law is a deadly decision against Filipino rice farmers wherein domestically-produced rice is unnecessarily expensive because of “long-standing government neglect of the agriculture sector.” No more than 5 percent of the national budget has been given to agriculture over the last two decades. The Duterte administration does not correct this, but instead passed a law that will further burden the Filipinos.

There is no guarantee that retail rice prices will be lower in the long run with unrestricted importation. Relying on rice imports makes the country vulnerable to higher world market prices as well as to rice production and export decisions of other countries. Government’s neoliberal prioritization of food imports and production of crops for export should be upturned. The Philippine government should instead strengthen the local rice industry such as rural aid like free water irrigation, free calamity subsidy, post-harvest facility, and agrarian mechanization and boosting of local market. --RENMIN VIZCONDE


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