MANILA – Senator Francis “Kiko” N. Pangilinan on Monday appealed to the Cabinet for its position on the lifting of quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice, as guidance to the Senate’s legislative action.
“We gently appeal to the Cabinet for their position on the lifting of quantitative restriction on rice. We hope to have it before the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) July 2017 deadline, so that we may be guided regarding possible pieces of legislation that needs amending,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, which convened a public hearing to discuss the implications of the WTO’s mandate to eliminate the QR. The QRs are limits to the volume of goods traded by a country. The Philippines was granted an initial exemption for the lifting of QR on rice because of its highly sensitive nature.
The deadline for the Philippines has already been extended twice: in 2005 and in 2015, where a waiver was obtained to further extend to July 2017.
MORE GAINS THAN LOSS
Speaking at the hearing, OIC Assistant Director General Mercedita Sombilla of the NEDA said that even following the El Nino, rice prices in the global market remain stable and is, in fact, declining.
“We support the lifting of the QR on rice. There is an 89% increase in world trade even after El Nino. We need to focus on the economic cost on the macro level rather than the sectoral level. Net social impact is still positive because our farmers are also consumers,” she said.
The Department of Finance supported this position, adding that the lifting of the QR will bring more investments to rice and prevent corruption. In the meantime, it said, the private sector is capable of filling the gap in rice supply.
Secretary Manny Pinol, however, stressed that the Department of Agriculture (DA) needs an additional two-year leeway before the QR can be lifted.
“We will present a somewhat divergent view. We ask for humanitarian consideration because our farmers are not yet prepared for the lifting of the QR. We first need to lower the cost of production and increase farm productivity so that our farmers will be able to compete against cheap imported rice,” Pinol said.
PhilRice presented a scenario analysis of post-QR 2017, which estimated a loss of 2 million metric tons in palay production, and a lowering of the farmgate price of palay by as much as Php 4.56 per kilo. This would also lower the cost of rice in the market by as much as Php 6.97 per kilo.
“This will be a loss for our farmers. How are we able to increase productivity? By providing government support in terms of seeds, fertilizer, and irrigation services, above others,” Pinol added.
Representatives of farmers’ groups, for their part, asserted that they do not oppose the lifting of the QR provided that there would be sufficient support from the government.
“The programs are still not in place. Saan na po ba kami pupulutin? We need safety nets for the farmers. Kumikita pa ba ang mga magsasaka?” they said.
Pangilinan asked the DA to submit their two-year plan of action in the event that an extension will be granted.
“We are more than willing to support initiatives that will help our farmers and consumers alike. We have to be able to provide an inventory of the safety nets for farmers. We also ask the NEDA and the DOF and other relevant agencies to provide us with necessary and updated data that will help us determine the impacts of both scenarios,” Pangilinan said.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food will next convene this Wednesday to discuss the Sagip Saka Act of 2016, to promote farmer and fisherfolk entrepreneurship and development. Sagip Saka is part of Pangilinan’s priority pro-farmer and fisher pieces of legislation for the 17th Congress.