The Department of Agriculture’s (DA) plan to limit importation of agricultural products through only five ports in the Philippines to ensure proper inspection is possible as long as dedicated examination areas are in place, according to a Bureau of Customs (BOC) executive.
BOC assistant commissioner and spokesperson Atty. Vincent Philip Maronilla, in a recent chance interview with PortCalls, said the plan to allow the unloading of agricultural imports to just a limited number of ports had been discussed in previous administrations, adding that “as long as there are special facilities that are going to be identified to those ports, I think that’s possible.”
DA Secretary William Dar on January 8 announced the plan to limit unloading of agricultural imports to only five ports to enable a 100% examination by the government. The plan was announced after President Rodrigo Duterte approved the establishment of designated cold examination areas in the ports of Manila, Batangas, Subic, Cebu and Davao.
Currently, BOC opens a container only to conduct a quick check of its contents to avoid spoilage and contamination. A more thorough examination is conducted once the commodities are delivered to the National Meat Inspection Service.
Maronilla said the main issue with the plan “is that it might be considered as a trade barrier” by the World Trade Organization as it would limit the free flow of trade. But if there are “specific facilities” that only the identified ports could offer, then “it’s not going to be a trade barrier.”
“I think the clincher there will be the decision of the DA to actually adopt and create cold storages for these ports for the conduct of a more effective examination that will effectively deviate any issues on trade barriers,” Maronilla said.
No timelines have been given for the DA’s plan, and Maronilla said there have been no meetings yet between DA and BOC on the matter.
The BOC executive noted, however, that it is best to have the plan “consulted with other agencies” as well before actual implementation.
Currently, any ports with container-handling equipment can accept agricultural shipments, Maronilla noted. – Roumina Pablo