Yamsuan: Lowering rice import tariffs amidst harvest season a cruel act vs. small farmers

Bicol Saro Partylist Representative Brian Raymund Yamsuan has expressed his support for President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s decision to reject  proposals on  temporarily reducing  tariffs on imported rice  as this would spare small farmers “an act of grave cruelty” amid the peak harvest season. 

While the government’s ultimate goal is to lower rice prices, it should not be done at the expense of the country’s 2.4 million rice  farmers, who are expected to harvest over 5 million metric tons of palay  in the peak months of September and October alone, Yamsuan said.

Tama ang naging desisyon ng ating Pangulo. Napakadaling sabihin na ibaba ang taripa sa bigas para pumasok ang maraming imports at bumaba ang presyo nito sa merkado. Pero sino naman ang lugi? ‘Ang mga magsasaka natin na  naghirap magtanim pero wala rin naman palang kikitain ang magdurusa,” Yamsuan said.

(The decision of our President is right. It is easy to say that we should lower tariffs to bring in more imported rice and pull down  rice prices in the market. But who will suffer the loss? Our farmers who toiled hard  to plant  but would not profit from it will be the ones to suffer.)

“We may not be an expert in economics, but common sense tells us that if you flood the market with imported rice, this would lead to depressed farmgate prices at a time when our farmers are in the midst of the harvest season. The band-aid solution of lowering rice tariffs at this time would be an act of grave cruelty to our farmers,” added Yamsuan, whose partylist organization represents the Bicol Region, which accounts for close to 7 percent of the country’s total rice production.

Yamsuan also said that lowering rice import tariffs would deprive farmers of a major source of assistance they badly need to modernize their sector and raise their incomes.

Under Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law, tariff collections from rice imports will go to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), which will be used to finance the modernization of the rice sector, provide farmers with wider access to credit, training, mechanization  and technology, along with extending direct assistance to them.

Citing  government data, Yamsuan said  almost P23  billion was collected in import duties from rice shipments entering the country last year. In the first eight months of 2023, the Bureau of Customs has already collected  P17 billion in rice import tariffs.

“That’s P40 billion in 20 months, or an average of P2 billion a month.  Hence, the  proposal  to cut rice import tariffs would starve farmers twice over – of income which they will lose  because of competition from imported rice, and of assistance and benefits they will not get  because of  lower  tariff collections,” Yamsuan said.

President Marcos Jr., who is the concurrent secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA),  had earlier thumbed down a recommendation to cut  import tariffs on rice to help stabilize prices of the Filipino food staple.

The Chief Executive pointed to projections  that global rice prices would decrease soon which meant this was not the right time to lower import tariffs on the grain.

Yamsuan said that on top of these projections, the DA had also reported earlier that farmers are expected to harvest 2.3 million MT of palay in September, and another 2.9 million MT in October, or over 5 million MT, which would help stabilize rice prices in the market.

Along with the harvests since July, the DA  expects the total local rice production to reach more than 11 million MT in the second semester of the year.

Kung bababa ang taripa sa panahon ng masaganang ani, iisipin ng mga magsasaka na bakit pa sila magpapakahirap kung ito naman ay magdudulot ng financial suicide?  Para patuloy silang magtanim, kailangan nilang makita ang tamang patakaran ng pamahalaan at maramdaman nila ang pagmamalasakit nito,” Yamsuan said.

(If we lower rice tariffs in the middle of an abundant harvest season, our farmers will ask why they would still work hard when this would only lead to financial suicide? To encourage them to continue planting, they need to see that the government is implementing the right measures and cares for them.

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