PHL eyes end-2018 OK of rice tariff law


AMID pressure from trade partners, Manila informed the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it is “hopeful” of passing the legislation that would convert its quantitative restriction (QR) on rice into tariffs before the year ends.

A trade official privy to the matter told the BusinessMirror the Philippines informed members of the WTO at last week’s Committee on Agriculture (COA) meeting that it is facing “unavoidable”  delays in passing its rice-tariffication law.

The delay, according to the trade official, who was not authorized to speak for the Philippines, was caused by “other pressing priority legislation initiatives of the President” and “limited resources in Legislative and Executive branches of the government.”

“It reassured WTO members it will continue to work on it within its resource limit and hopefully update the information within the year,” said the trade official, who is based in Geneva where the WTO is also headquartered. “The Philippines said hopefully the tariffication legislation can be adopted within this year.”

The source said Canberra sought for an update on Manila’s efforts in converting its rice QR into tariffs during the COA meeting on June 11 and 12. The Australian representative to the COA meeting said Manila’s rice tariffication “is an issue being raised for quite some time.”

The delegation of the European Union (EU) echoed the concerns of Canberra and asked the Philippines to hasten its rice tariffication process and abide with its commitment “finally and for good.”

“The EU said it hopes it can be done as soon as possible because it is very important,” the trade official said.

In a February COA meeting, the Philippines vowed to present its rice tariff law by June; however, the contrasting Legislative priorities of both chambers of Congress delayed its passage.

The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) earlier told the BusinessMirror it is targeting to pass the country’s rice-tariffication law and present it to WTO member-countries by October.

“By October, if we still cannot report any substantial progress on the action we have taken, then it will be difficult for us. Our trading partners might ask for further concessions. Worse, we might be sanctioned, but that’s the worst-case scenario,” Neda Undersecretary Rosemarie G. Edillon said in an interview last month.

The substitute bill that would amend Republic Act (RA) 8178, or the Agricultural Tariffication Act, which imposed the QR on rice, has already passed concerned House of Representatives Committee levels and is now awaiting plenary deliberations.

The House of Representatives earlier eyed to pass the bill in March but faced delays due to other Legislative priorities of the lower chamber.

At the Senate, the Committee on Agriculture and Food is yet to issue its consolidated draft bill amending RA 8178 and converting the rice QR into tariffs.

Sen. Cynthia A. Villar, chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Food, said she is taking her time in crafting a “better” rice-tariffication law to ensure that farmers would not be at a disadvantage by the influx of cheap foreign rice.

“We know what our problems are. We have thught about it and we are thinking [about] how to pass a better law,” Villar told reporters in an interview at PICC on May 31.

“Give us time. Because we are thinking of the solutions to the problems that [lifting of rice QR] will cause. We are studying it very hard,” Villar added.

Villar is eyeing an end-2018 passage of the bill in the Senate. She earlier vowed to pass it by March as it was a Legislative priority of the Duterte administration.

Edillon noted how “crucial” it is for substantial progress to be made by the Philippines on amending RA 8178. Trading partners, such as Australia, Thailand and the United States, have recently raised questions regarding the country’s efforts to scrap the rice QR.

These countries may ask for more concessions if the Philippines fails to make substantial progress on converting the rice QR into tariff. Australia and the US may seek expanded market access for their livestock products, while Thailand may request for a higher minimum access volume for its rice.

Last month Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo R. Serrano called on the Senate and the House of Representatives to prioritize the passage of the rice-tariffication bill so that the Philippines could immediately comply with its commitment to the WTO.

“What we are saying is that the rice-tariffication [bill] should be passed as soon as possible. Let’s not mingle it with other issues, such as the reorganization of the NFA [National Food Authority],” Serrano told reporters in an interview at the House of Representatives in Quezon City on  May 21.

“Everyone has agreed that we must tariffy, but that doesn’t mean we have to dissolve the NFA. That’s a different issue,” he added.


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