The Philippines will not suspend importation of rice but will instead implement stricter measures—including pre-shipment inspection (PSI)—on the commodity’s entry into the country, clarified Agriculture Secretary William Dar.
In a press statement on November 21, Dar said all rice importers have to comply with required guidelines for securing sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance (SPSIC).
The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) will also conduct PSI of imported stocks at the point of origin “to ensure quality and safe rice for consumers, as well as protect farmers from possible introduction and spread of crop pests and diseases,” he said.
Dar’s clarification came after President Rodrigo Duterte in a press briefing on November 19 said he had ordered the Department of Agriculture (DA) to suspend rice importation during the harvest season amid farmers’ woes stemming from the effects of the Rice Tariffication Law.
Dar said Duterte, in a meeting on the night of November 20 with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, directed him instead to implement stricter rice importation measures.
Republic Act (RA) No. 11203, also known as the Rice Tariffication Law, took effect last March and shifted the country from quantitative restrictions to tariffs, leading to a surge in importation of the staple.
Local farmers, however, are pointing to the new law as the reason palay (unhusked rice) prices have significantly declined in some parts of the country.
BPI National Plant Quarantine Services Division assistant chief Gerald Glenn Panganiban told PortCalls: “Applying stricter SPS measures is a mandate of the DA amidst risks on food safety and pests and diseases.This is to protect our agricultural industry from the entry of injurious pests and diseases and ensuring the food safety of our consumers.”
He added that “food safety regulations on rice has just been transferred to the BPI via the Rice Tariffication Law. Part of this is pre-shipment inspections which is contained in SPS guidelines.”
Rice in bulk shipment
Imports of rice shipped in bulk already undergo mandatory PSI by the Bureau of Customs (BOC), in compliance with existing regulations. PSI, the practice of employing private companies to check shipment details such as price, quantity, and quality of goods ordered overseas, has been implemented for bulk and breakbulk shipments for years.
But rice in containerized shipments is currently not covered by mandatory PSI, but importers may choose to undergo the process under the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, BOC assistant commissioner and spokesperson Atty. Vincent Philip Maronilla told PortCalls in a text message. He noted that a large number of imported rice is shipped via containers.
PortCalls is still clarifying if the DA intends to also require rice imports in containers to undergo PSI.
Dar said the President has ordered the National Food Authority (NFA) to increase the country’s emergency buffer stock from 15 to 30 days by buying more palay (unhusked rice) from farmers.
Further, the President instructed Dar that the NFA must accelerate turnover of its inventory by buying more palay, and selling more regular milled rice at an average of 20,000 bags (50 kilograms) or more per day.
In addition, the unconditional cash transfer for small farmers affected by low palay prices will be extended from one year to two years, with a budget of P3 billion per year. This will benefit 600,000 farmers tilling one-half to two hectares of rice lands.
Meanwhile, Dar said the DA-BPI has to date issued some 3,000 SPSICs, of which about 70% (equivalent to 1.7 million metric tons of rice) have already been used.
He has told BPI, an agency under DA, not to entertain holders of unused SPSICs, who will be asked why they have not used their import clearance and brought in the imported stock.
Prior to the meeting on November 20, Dar on November 13 said BPI has been implementing stricter requirements for SPIC, resulting in a drop in the volume of rice importation to 85,000 metric tons (MT) in October from a monthly average of 254,000 MT in the first nine months of the year.
Dar said the Philippine government has already informed Vietnam and Thailand—the country’s main sources of rice imports—of the tighter SPSIC measures.
“We are not afraid because we are after food safety,” Dar said when asked about possible criticisms from importers and rice-producing nations of its actions.