Agri stakeholders offer help to stop chronic food smuggling

Agri stakeholders offer help to stop chronic food smuggling

MANILA – Various agricultural stakeholders have offered to help the government stop the chronic smuggling of food products that has depressed local production and kept food prices high.

Jon Santos of the Association of Fresh Fish Traders of the Philippines said in a statement on Tuesday private sector stakeholders that face the problem every day must be involved in the enforcement of anti-smuggling laws.

“We know that when it’s hot, smuggling disappears. When it passes, it returns. The system should include us as stakeholders who have involvement in law enforcement for consistency. Because when we let our guards down, [the smugglers] are here again. Every day we face this problem… involve the stakeholders,” Santos said.

Former national Director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Asis Perez said the Department of Agriculture (DA) is set to file several cases against suspected smugglers this week.

“The problem now is that the group that goes after smuggling is ad hoc, without personnel. We support the institutionalization of Assistant Secretary James Layug’s inspectorate and enforcement group in the DA,” said Perez, also lead convenor of agriculture advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan.

He said the continued smuggling of onions, rice, corn, sugar, carrots, fish and pork has an immense impact not only on farmers and fisherfolk but on Philippine food security.

“The persistent entry of these undocumented products in our country is also threatening our economy in terms of revenue loss and taxable commodities,” he said.

As of late December 2022, the Bureau of Customs estimated that it has seized over PHP1.2 billion worth of agricultural products smuggled into the country.

Former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Montemayor said chronic smuggling of food products also threatens Filipino consumers, noting that animal and plant diseases that have plagued the country such as African swine fever and cocolisap (coconut scale insect) are most likely due to unregulated importation.

“Aside from the impact on the revenue and production of local farmers and fisherfolk, human health and plant and animal safety are also affected by illegal imports,” he said.

In the case of rice smuggling, he estimated that between 2019, when the Rice Tariffication Law was passed, and 2022, the government lost an additional tariff of PHP8 billion due to smuggling.

“If the reference price in the international market per metric ton is USD500 and the import declaration is USD400, that alone should serve as a red flag, and the bond should immediately kick in. Unless and until the exporter can explain satisfactorily, don’t release the importation,” Montemayor said.

Meanwhile, lawyer Elias Jose Inciong of the United Broiler Raisers Association said the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997, especially its provisions on data and quarantine, must be enforced.

He said a system for enforcing the law must be put in place.

“The President recently stressed the need to stop smuggling. I maintain that there is no system in place to address the matter. The national information network, together with the inspection and quarantine system, can be used to interdict and combat smuggling and anti-fair trade. We need an information data system and inspection areas to combat smuggling,” Inciong said. (PNA) 

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