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DA halts onion imports, probes price manipulation

March 23, 2019

The Agriculture department on Friday announced a temporary halt to bulb onion imports pending a probe of alleged price manipulation.

The Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) have been asked to investigate the reported closure of cold storage facilities in Nueva Ecija in a bid to force farmers to accept low prices.

A worker arranges sacks of onions inside one of the 14 40-foot containers from China and India seized by Philippines customs for lack of import permits during a press presentation at the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) on June 18, 2009. File Photo

The import suspension, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said, will “prevent the cartel from benefiting from their operations where they forced the drop in the buying price of local onions by leasing and closing cold storage facilities to onion farmers.”

Piñol claimed that “traders have started their manipulation of the market” given bumper harvests in Central Luzon, Mindoro and Iloilo.

Among the facilities being investigated are Rivson Coop Storage Inc., Argo Cold Storage Facility, Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magsisibuyas ng Nueva Ecija (Kasamne), all in Palayan City, and Titan Onion Cold Storage in Bongabon City.

Representatives of the firms were not immediately available for comment.

Piñol claimed that some of the storage facilities were government-funded and turned over to farmer cooperatives, some of which “connive with big-time traders now.”

The import ban is expected to help address an oversupply that has led to onion prices falling to P15 per kilo from a high of P30 before the start of the harvest season.

“The DA has directed the [Bureau of Plant Industry] to support the (temporary ban) arrangement by scheduling the processing of [sanitary and pythosanitary] permits (SPS) until after the harvest season. The moratorium on the issuance of SPS permits will be extended until such time the PCC and NBI have terminated their investigation,” Piñol said.

Jayson Cainglet, executive director of Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), told The Manila Times that the Agriculture department had moved “too late” as the “damage has been done”.

Cainglet said the industry had been asking for an import ban following a nearly three-fold increase on 2018 imports to 101 million kilos from a year earlier.

While Piñol said that no SPS permits had been issued since October, Cainglet claimed that imports were still entering the country in November and December.

“Even if the DA (Department of Agriculture) has banned the importation, the traders are already happy because the imports are already flooding the market and some have been stored in the cold facilities. What the DA should do is to help farmers sell their produce at a price of at least P25 per kilo to ensure farmers will not lose money,” he said in a phone interview.

Meanwhile, Piñol said the Agricultural Credit Policy Council had been directed to extend loans that would help onion cooperatives buy produce from farmer-members.

Agriculture Undersecretary for Ariel Cayanan was also directed to engage other private cold storage facilities for temporary use by onion farmers.

The department also committed to provide funds for the construction of three more cold storage facilities this year in Iloilo, Mindoro and Tarlac.

In 2018, local onion production fell by 6.38 percent to 172,670 metric tons (MT) year on year. The value of production at current prices also fell, by 23.10 percent to P5.5 billion.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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