By Arwen Pascua
MANILA — Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has directed the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to keep a tighter watch on incoming rice shipments to ensure the proper collection of taxes following the issuance of an executive order (EO) harmonizing the tariff rates on imports of the cereal to a uniform 35 percent for a period of one year, whether these originate within or outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
Dominguez issued this directive after President Duterte issued EO 135 last May 15 to temporarily modify tariff rates on rice imports to offset the effect on consumers of the continuous increase in the price of rice from other countries, particularly those coming from ASEAN countries, and thereby reduce inflationary pressures.
EO 135 would enable the country to diversify its market sources for rice and maintain the stable supply and affordable price of the cereal for Filipino consumers.
Dominguez said that, given the increase in rice prices from ASEAN countries, “I think there will be a shift in the imports of Thai and Vietnamese rice, and Burmese (Myanmar) rice, to rice from other countries where the value is much lower. Just keep an eye on that,” Dominguez told Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero during a recent Department of Finance (DOF) executive committee (Execom) meeting.
A former agriculture secretary, Dominguez cited India as a possible source of cheap rice imports.
Guerrero reported during the Execom meeting that the BOC is now reviewing the valuation of rice shipments from Vietnam after noticing that most of the imports from there were declared with values lower than the published prevailing prices for such exports from that country.
“We discovered that many of these importations are under a tentative assessment so we are reviewing the payments,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero said the average value of rice imports, coming mostly from Vietnam, dropped 12.7 percent to P19,312 per metric ton (MT) in May 2021, compared to P22,119 per MT in the same month last year.
The average value of rice in May was also lower than the P21,066 per MT recorded in April and P22,119 per MT in March.
In previous Execom meetings, Guerrero had reported increasing tariff collections despite lower import volumes because of a steady improvement in the BOC’s valuation system.
Preliminary data showed that from January 1 to April 30, a total of 804,360 metric tons (MT) of rice shipments worth P17 billion entered the country, representing a 9.2-percent decline from the 885,645 MT valued at P16.4 billion that were imported during the same period last year.
BOC revenues collected from the January 1-April 30 imports amounted to P5.67 billion, which was 3.7 percent more than the P5.46 billion collected during the same period in 2020, despite lower import volumes of the cereal this year.
From an average of P18,508 per metric ton (MT) recorded from January 1-April 30 in 2020, the average value of rice imports rose to P21,096 per MT during the same period in 2021, which is an increase of 14 percent, Guerrero said.
In September last year, the BOC subjected several rice importations to “post-modification and post audit” to ensure that undervalued shipments are properly assessed and subsequently paid with the correct amount of duties and taxes.
At the height of the strict quarantines imposed last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BOC allowed traders to avail of the Provisional Goods Declaration in processing their shipments to help ensure the stable supply of rice in the market.
But the BOC later found the valuation of several rice shipments with provisional goods declaration to be low compared to the prevailing market prices, prompting the Bureau to conduct a post-audit on these imports. (AI/MTVN)