Philippines government plan to liberalize rice trade, by imposing a 35-percent tariff on the produce, by June next year is deemed to be irresponsible and disastrous. This issue was discussed at the Senate hearing on agriculture chaired by Sen. Francis Pangilinan on 17 of this month. This reckless action, it’s alleged, occurred in compliance with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) conditions. But if this is the only level acceptable to WTO members, farmers must then be given at least two years to prepare for this very low rate. The accompanying safety nets promised by the government were never given.
These types of thoughtless policies are the major reason for over 40-percent rural poverty rate which is more than double the 19 percent of Vietnam and the 14 percent of Indonesia and Thailand. Liberalized trade with a low 35 percent tariff will only worsen the prevailing poverty situation. “Of course, tariff is preferred over quantitative restrictions or cap on imports, but it must be a fair tariff. Our government is supposed to help farmers, not harm them”, complaint a concerned person on the condition anonymity.
Studies have shown that a rice tariff of 70 percent is appropriate as it will give rice imports equal footing with our produce but 35 percent rate is very irresponsible. Our government has not prepared our farmers for this. Sadly, our agriculture governance is littered with too many cases of corruption, incompetence and indifference to our farmers’ sad plight. Farmers want and deserve a fair deal from our government. This is a gross mismanagement in agriculture governance to subject rice farmers to such tariffs without preparing them thus denying them a level playing field. The government must deliver its fair share now and grant at least a two-year extension. This can be done with a clear roadmap backed with the necessary budget support. We have not seen this yet. Senator Pangilinan asked government agencies, what would happen if the 35-percent tariff would be implemented next year. An Alyansa agriculture leader recommended that private sector should be given a chance to submit its own scenarios, with rice farmers and scientists providing the major inputs. This was necessary for the Senate to have a complete view in addressing food security, rural poverty and farmer welfare.