BACOLOD

Unity forum to underscore opposition on rice tariffication, sugar liberalization

RICE and sugar industry stakeholders in Negros Occidental will hold a unity forum that will underscore their opposition against rice tariffication and sugar liberalization.

At least 15 rice and sugar cooperatives, labor unions and civil societies will join the forum to be held at Gerald’s Restaurant in Bacolod City on Wednesday, March 6.

Wennie Sancho, secretary general of General Alliance of Workers Associations, said on Monday, March 4, small and marginal farmers in the rice industry feel that their livelihood are at risk.

Sancho said lifting the quantitative restrictions on rice importation will create a possible glut in the low priced rice in the market, putting local producers at a disadvantage because they cannot compete with cheap imported rice.

“Small farmers will be driven out of their farms and out of their jobs,” he said, adding that some farmers may diversify into new cash crops while others may opt to retire from farming.

On February 15, President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law the measure lifting restrictions on rice importation.

Duterte certified the rice tariffication bill in October 2018 in a bid “to address the urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country, to prevent artificial rice shortage, reduce the prices of rice in the market, and curtail the prevalence of corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry.”

Under the rice tariffication scheme, quantitative restrictions on rice importation are lifted and private traders are allowed to import the commodity from countries of their choice.

The country's economic team has been pushing for rice tariffication, saying this should bring down the prices of the country’s staple and weaken inflation.

Oppositions against the proposed sugar import deregulation have also been arising.

Economic managers positioned such import scheme to lower the price of local sugar.

Sugar industry stakeholders, however, said this would lead to the collapse of the sugar industry affecting thousands of farmers and workers in the country mostly in Negros Occidental.

Some senators and congressmen have expressed support to the sugar industry by opposing the measure.

This is on top of other oppositions made by the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental and other groups.

Sancho, also the convener of Save the Sugar Industry Movement, said the long history of rice and sugar farmers being left behind despite the country’s economic progress has created a significant distrust with the strategies implemented by economic managers.

The labor leader claimed that rice tariffication law and sugar import liberalization plan are de facto forms of trade liberalization.

“Government failed to capacitate the agricultural sector to compete in the internationalization arena,” Sancho said.

He added that the forum will also organize the Rice and Sugar Watch Negros that will serve as watchdog on issues confronting the rice and sugar farmers in the province.

Some participants during the forum will dress like rice farmers and sugar workers to dramatize their sentiments. (EPN)


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