The Rice Tarrification Law (2)

The Rice Tarrification Law (2)

President Ramos took a different tack when he pushed for the membership of the country in the World Trade Organization in 1994.

A necessary part of the Philippines’ ascension to the WTO was the liberalization of agricultural trading, including rice.

Observers note that we availed ourselves of the exception (under the WTO agreement) for rice import for 10 years to allow the government to put in place the necessary productivity-enhancing measures to protect our palay farmers and make them globally competitive.

That was the reason why the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997 (AFMA) or Republic Act 8435, and the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) lending program were enacted and created, respectively.

We may ask: Did we do our homework on improving the production efficiency of palay farmers?

Analysts answer that with “Unfortunately, we did not.”

Hence, after the 10-year grace period, we applied for another 10-year exemption (though this required sacrificing other agricultural producers through lower tariffs) from the lifting of the country’s rice QR. The 20-year grace period ended in 2014, during the time of former DA Secretary Proceso Alcala (under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III), and we were no longer allowed by WTO to extend the QR.

The Philippines acquired the right to impose quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice as a result of the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations that led to the establishment of the World Trade Organization in 1995.

Analysts say we resorted to various legal measures like a declaration of an emergency situation, imposing non-tariff barriers, or sacrificing more products through lower tariffs in exchange for maintaining the rice QRs.

Another question rises. If we are rice self-sufficient, why is there a need to import?

Observers say we are not self-sufficient in rice and that we are importing an average of five to 10 percent of our rice requirements, depending on the weather, because we cannot produce enough.

Successive DA secretaries promised to attain rice self-sufficiency, but, sadly, they all failed.

We used to take pride in the fact that the Philippines had the International Rice Research Institute, the world’s premier research organization dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger through rice science; improving the health and welfare of rice farmers and consumers; and protecting the rice-growing environment for future generations.

We also have the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture created through Executive Order 1061 on November 5, 1985 (as amended) to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

Observers of the agricultural sector say ending hunger and malnutrition in Southeast Asia is essential and rice, which plays a critical role, is the single most important staple in the region as it provides 50 percent of calorie intake for its population.

The region’s rice areas comprise 48 million hectares or almost 30 percent of the world rice harvest.

It produced 220 million tons of rice in 2018. Vietnam and Thailand are among the top three rice exporting countries in the world.

Southeast Asia is home to 61 million undernourished people, around 9 percent of its population, and over 33 million are severely food insecure.

The prevalence of stunting in children under five years of age stands at 25 percent while the percentage of overweight children increased from 3.2 percent in 2000 to 7.7 percent in 2018. Achieving SDG2 or the Sustainable Development Goal — ending hunger and malnutrition — by 2030 requires the region to work collaboratively to address complex and interrelated challenges like climate change, urbanization, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, poverty, food safety and nutrition, and social inequity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of our food systems and agriculture as a whole.

SDG2 seeks sustainable solutions to end hunger in all its forms by 2030 and to achieve food security. The aim is to ensure that everyone everywhere has enough good-quality food to lead a healthy life.

But achieving this goal will require better access to food and the widespread promotion of sustainable agriculture. (ai/mtvn)

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