The National Economic and Development Authority said Thursday that an executive order that will remove administrative and non-tariff barriers on the importation of food items will address the supply problems that have driven the rate of inflation to nine-year highs.
The Economic Development Cluster of the Cabinet has recommended that President Rodrigo Duterte issue the executive order for implementation this month.
The order will zero in on fish, rice, sugar, meat and vegetables—considering that the rise in prices of these items has been the major contributor to inflation for the past two months. Fish and seafood, rice and meat, and vegetables accounted for 2.4 percentage points out of the 6.4 percent inflation rate in August.
“The issuance of the Executive Order as well as quick implementation of immediate and short-term measures will address the supply issues that have been driving up inflation,” Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said.
The proposed EO will jump off from the measures and reforms identified by the EDC to tame food inflation. Immediate to short-term measures include making rice available in the market through immediate release of stocks from National Food Authority warehouses, importation, and distribution of projected harvest; monitoring of rice transfer from ports to warehouses and retail outlets; and the speedy passage of the rice tariffication bill.
Availability of fish and chicken will be increased by allowing imports to be distributed quickly and by setting up public markets with cold storage facilities where producers can sell directly to end consumers.
Apart from importation, improving logistics, transport, distribution, and storage was also deemed crucial for curbing price inflation of sugar, vegetables, and other food items.
Medium- to long-term measures include boosting agricultural production by promoting the use of and developing resilient and high-yielding varieties of crops while reassessing the country’s planting season and crop viability in each region. Policy measures include the review and possible amendment of the Fisheries Code and other policies governing the sector and legislation for the tariffication also of sugar, fish, meat and vegetables.
The EDC reiterated the urgency of passing the rice tariffication bill, which is currently in the Senate after approval by the House of Representatives on third and final reading.
“The rice tariffication bill must be passed with haste not only to curb inflation but also to provide farmers better access to farming technologies. This will increase productivity and supply in the medium-term,” the EDC said.
The 6.4-percent inflation in August brought the average inflation in the first eight months to 4.73 percent, well over the target range of 2 to 4 percent this year.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, who has been tasked by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to identify counter-inflation measures, said the EO could bring the rate down to 6.1 percent in Septermber.
Speaking on the ANC news channel, Salceda said the EO would also settle the “raging contentious relations between the NFA Council and the NFA.”
The NFA is the state grains procurement agency while the NFA Council sets import policies on food.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Customs on Thursday blamed the NFA and the Department of Agriculture for the slow issuance of permits to rice importers that has caused delays in the release of imported rice at the country’s ports.
“I would like to address the issue being reported that the spike in rice prices in the country was caused by the delays in the release of rice shipments by the Bureau of Customs,” Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña said in a statement.
“If only NFA permits were submitted to the Bureau before the arrival of these shipments, then an efficient and faster Customs clearance process can be made,” the BoC chief said.
The BoC chief said that he has already sent a letter request to the DA and NFA dated Sept. 10 to expedite the release of import permits to rice importers, adding that the BoC cannot release the rice shipments without such a permit.
“To set the record straight, I would like to clarify that there is no delay in the customs clearance of rice imports in all ports. In fact, I have ordered all district collectors to expedite the processing of essential food such as rice, sugar, pork, and chicken to aid the supply issue.”
“It cannot be avoided that in some instances, the customs clearance procedure cannot be completed without the corresponding import permit from the National Food Authority,” he said.
Lapeña also advised importers to secure NFA permits in advance before their shipments arrive, and not three to five days afterward, as some traders do.
In the Senate, Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV urged the administration to join forces with the opposition and work together to solve the rice crisis.
“Instead of pinpointing [blame], they should face the crisis causing hardships,” said Aquino during his privilege speech on the rising prices of goods in the country.
He said the implementation of programs is in the hands of the government.
“The Cabinet of the President should focus on giving comfort to the Filipino families,” said Aquino, one of the four senators who voted against the ratification of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law.
Aquino said the opposition was in talks, not to overthrow the government, but to address the problem of rising prices.
Aquino offered three proposals.
First, he said the government must fully implement social mitigating measures under the Train Law.
Second, he called for the replacement of incompetent NFA officials with people who can fulfill the agency’s mandate, including the immediate return to a 15-day buffer stock of rice.
Third, Aquino renewed is call for the passage of his Senate Bill No. 1798 or the Bawas Presyo Bill to stop the second round of increase in excise tax on petroleum products under the TRAIN Law in January 2019.
Senator Grace Poe said with people still smarting from the effects of TRAIN, it might not be the right time to consider its second phase.
“I don’t know if it’s time for us to actually consider TRAIN 2. There are so many things going on that we need to prioritize before this,” said Poe. With Vito Barcelo