PHL vows to present rice tariff law to WTO in June

26.02.2018

Manila has assured the World Trade Organization (WTO) that the Philippines will be able to finally convert its quantitative restriction (QR) on rice into tariffs by June, nearly a year after the government was supposed to have scrapped the nontariff measure.

A Geneva trade official, who was privy to the proceedings of the recent WTO Committee on Agriculture (CoA) meeting, told the BusinessMirror that the Philippine delegation had informed WTO member-countries that lawmakers are “fast-tracking and prioritizing” the amendment of Republic Act (RA) 8178.

RA 8178, or the Agricultural Tariffication Act, had allowed the Philippines to continue imposing rice quotas even after the WTO waiver on the special treatment on rice had lapsed on June 30.

The Philippine delegation said the government’s Executive branch “is working closely with both Houses of Congress in the final decision of the final bill,” according to the trade official.

After approving their respective versions of the rice-tariffication bill, the Senate and the House of Representatives will transmit their bills to a bicameral conference committee to consolidate their versions and to discuss the divergent provisions of the measure.

“Nevertheless, the Philippines is expecting that that the final bill will be enacted into law by the next regular session of the committee,” the official said.

“While the enactment of the law has been delayed, it will be noted that the Philippines, through an executive order in April 2017, has been extending the rice concessions to all WTO members under the General Council decision on rice waiver WT/L/932 since its expiration on July 1, 2017. However, the continuation of the concessions shall finally cease once the tariffication law is enacted according to the executive order,” the official added.

The next regular session of the CoA is tentatively scheduled on June 11 and 12, according to the Geneva trade official.

The Philippine delegation made the statement after Canberra sought for an update on Manila’s efforts to convert the QR into tariffs during the COA meeting on February 20.

The Australian government has been keenly monitoring the country’s removal of rice QR, following the expiration of the Philippines’s waiver on the special treatment of rice on June 30, 2017.

The Australian delegation to the WTO had also sought updates from the Philippines regarding its tariffication process during the CoA meeting last October.

After the Philippine delegation delivered its statement, the trade official said the delegation from the European Union (EU) reminded the Philippines and other WTO member-countries that they are duty bound to fulfill their trade commitments.

“After Philippines’s statement, the EU took the floor to thank the Philippines and expressed its systemicinterest in the subject. The EU urged all members to adhere to the decisions taken in the WTO,” the official said.

On July 24, 2014, the WTO General Council approved the Philippines’s waiver on the special treatment on rice, allowing Manila to keep its QR on rice until June 30, 2017. The WTO General Council approved the waiver on the condition that the Philippines will subject its rice imports to ordinary custom duties starting July 1, 2017.

“At the expiration of this waiver, and no later than June 30, 2017, the importation of rice shall be subject to ordinary customs duties in accordance with paragraph 10 of Annex 5, Section B, of the Agreement on Agriculture,” the WTO General Council decision read.

Earlier, House Committee on Agriculture and Food Chairman Party-list Rep. Jose T. Panganiban Jr. of Anac IP told the BusinessMirror that the lower chamber remains committed to pass the bill abolishing the rice QR by March.

Panganiban said the QR bill is under deliberation in the House Committee on Appropriations. After it passes the Committee on Apropariations, Panganiban said he expects the bill to be at the plenary level by early-March.

The Senate is also targeting to pass its version of the rice tariff bill by March, according to Sen. Cynthia A. Villar, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food.

The Philippines is under pressure to convert its QR into tariff after the waiver on the special treatment on rice expired last June 30. The expiration of the waiver meant that Manila can no longer impose the nontariff measure.

To avoid possible trade disputes, President Duterte issued an executive order which retained the country’s rice concessions as “a sign of goodwill” to the country’s trade partners while RA 8178 is being amended.

However, economists and government officials have noted that retaining the concessions is not a guarantee that trading partners will not file a complaint against the Philippines before the WTO for not converting the QR into tariffs.


businessmirror

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