Press Release
September 23, 2016

Recto files reso on impact of unli rice import plan

Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto is pressing the Senate to host a faceoff between supporters and critics of the administration's audacious plan to liberalize the importation of rice.

In Senate Resolution 146, Recto said "the ramifications of the rice trade liberalization" should be studied to ensure that "purported benefits are realized and the welfare of our farmers and agricultural workers are protected."

The head of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and other economic managers have been calling for the lifting of the quantitative import restrictions on rice, saying that it would bring rice prices down and raise farmers' incomes as they will be enticed to shift to more profitable crops.

Agriculture officials, however, have expressed initial reservations on the plan, especially if such a policy will be implemented without providing safety nets that will aid the farm sector during the transition period.

Recto agrees, saying that "liberalization without ample and appropriate financial and technical support from the government" would not improve the lot and competitiveness of Filipino farmers.

He said "the sheer number of farmers and people involved and dependent on domestic rice production calls for a plan that will cushion the disruptive effects of such major policy shift."

"If we have seen how many towns have economically collapsed because of the closure of the only factory in those places, then many towns in the country are basically rice factories," he said.

Because no public hearings on the proposal have been called, Recto said the Senate should provide the venue where its far-reaching repercussions can be discussed with all stakeholders present.

"Ano ba ang saklaw ng policy? Limited importation ba o unli? Mayroon na bang mechanics?" he asked.

Rice is grown in one in every three hectares of farmland, by at least 1.23 million farmers, whose average age is 58, who in turn employ millions of seasonal farmhands and provide livelihood to those who bring the staple from the farm to the table.

Palay production hit 18.15 million metric tons last year, and has been growing at an average rate of3.12 percent yearly since 1998. Value of the 2015 paddy output was almost P311.1 billion.

Despite accounting for just 2.2 percent of the economy, rice eats up a large chunk of the poor's household budget, with per capita consumption at 114 kilos a year.

"Rice plays a crucial role in Philippine society and accounts for a significant portion of the Philippine economy, given its impact on rice consumers as well as those engaged in its cultivation, production, processing, distribution and retail," Recto said in the resolution.

Rice farmers, he said, face a "spectrum of risks, from adverse weather conditions to high production costs to rice smuggling, risks which government reduces through tariff walls, and funding and know-how to boost local production."

In addition, only a little more than half of irrigable lands are served by irrigation while only 13 percent of ricelands have crop insurance.

Recto said rice farmers represent one of the biggest contingents of the rural poor, with latest surveys pegging at 38.3 percent the poverty incidence among farmers.

Republic Act 8178 formalized the country's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), binding the Philippines to free trade and the dismantling of trade barriers.

The WTO, however, exempted the Philippines from the immediate removal of quantitative import restrictions on rice under the 1995 WTO Agreement on Agriculture.

The world trade body renewed the postponement of the country's compliance with the WTO agreement on rice import restriction, but such will expire on June 2017.

Recto said a balancing of interests is needed due to projections that while the lifting of import restriction will reduce rice prices by as much as 27 percent, it will erode the income of rice farmers by 29 percent.

"We have to listen to the conflicting concerns of the rice-producing poor on the one hand and the rice-consuming poor on the other," he said.

News Latest News Feed