By Chino Leyco
The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has already collected P6.5 billion in duties from rice imports by private traders under Republic Act (RA) No. 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Act, or an average of P1.4 billion a month since the law took effect in March this year, preliminary data show.
Customs collections from rice imports of private traders since its enactment in March would benefit palay growers as the annual P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) come from these revenues.
The DOF said RCEF was set up under the law to finance the modernization of the agriculture sector and directly provide farmers with access to credit and training, and funds for mechanization, high-quality seeds, and fertilizers, among other forms of assistance.
As a result of the liberalized rice trade following President Duterte’s signing of RA 11203, the average retail cost of the staple has since its enactment fallen by at least P7 per kilo.
In a report to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the Customs said it has collected a total of P6.479 billion from importer-traders as of July 15 under RA 11203, while another P3.103 billion was earned in duties from import permits issued by the National Food Authority (NFA) since January this year.
The bulk of the collections were from rice import duties under RA 11203 reported by the Port of Subic (POS), which collected P1.598 billion, followed by the Manila International Container Port (MICP) with P1.033 billion, and the Port of Manila (POM) with P998.77 million, the BOC said.
At an average of P1.4 billion a month, the BOC remains on course to collect the minimum of P10 billion needed for the RCEF per year.
Section 13(c) of the Rice Tariffication Law states that 10 percent of the P10-billion RCEF shall be made available in the form of credit facility with minimal interest rates and with minimum collateral requirements to rice farmers and cooperatives.
The rest of the RCEF will be set aside for farm machinery and equipment; rice seed development, propagation and promotion; and rice extension services, as provided under the rice tariffication law.
On top of paying tariffs, rice importers are required under RA 11203 to secure sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPSIC) from the DA’s Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), which assumed the food safety regulation function of the NFA under the Rice Tariffication Law.
This requirement will ensure that rice imports are free from pests and diseases that could affect public health and local farm production.
Dominguez has described the rice liberalization law on the shift from quantitative restriction to tariffs on rice imports as a “proud” accomplishment of the Duterte presidency and the DOF, given that it took more than 30 years under various administrations to get Congress to approve this game-changing reform.
Liberalizing rice imports has made the staple food more affordable to Filipinos, making retail prices this summer cheaper by about 20 percent compared to last year’s peak rates.
President Duterte’s enactment of RA 11203 and his implementation of a slew of non-monetary measures to ease food supply bottlenecks in response to last year’s elevated inflation has resulted in a subsequent downward trend in the spike in commodity prices.
From a high of 6.7 percent in September and October 2018, the inflation rate has fallen to 2.7 percent last June, or below the state economic team’s target band of 2-4 percent for the year.