October 10, 2019
THE Department of Agriculture (DA) is expected to announce its final decision on whether the country would impose the general safeguard duty on rice imports to address very low prices of palay (unmilled rice) that hit hard the livelihoods of small farmers nationwide.
“We are discussing it,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar told reporters at the sideline of the DA’s budget hearing at the Senate on Wednesday.
Under Republic Act (RA) 8800 or “Safeguard Measures Act,” the Agriculture Secretary must make a preliminary determination not later than 30 days from the motu propio initiation of an investigation “on the basis of the evidence… that increased imports of the product under consideration are a substantial cause of, or threaten to substantially cause, serious injury to the domestic industry.”
The initiation was done on Sep. 9, 2019, which means that the 30-day deadline ends on Wednesday, October 9.
The determination could be negative, if which case the investigation ended. Or, if could be positive, in which case the Secretary transferred the case to the Tariff Commission.
The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) national manager Raul Montemayor pointed out that while it is not necessary for the DA secretary to impose the general safeguard duty on rice imports, as provided by the law, he has the option to put in place the “provisional safeguards measures.”
RA 8800 says that “in critical circumstances where a delay would cause damage which would be difficult to repair, and pursuant to a preliminary determination that increased imports are substantial cause of… serious injury to the domestic industry, the Secretary shall immediately issue, through the Secretary of Finance, a written instruction to the Commissioner of Customs authorizing the imposition of a provisional general safeguard measure.”
“He really has to make a decision. The injury is very obvious as palay prices have dropped to [a] breakeven point. We have imported so much rice that it’s much more than what we need right now. I think the general safeguard[s] duty is enough to stop imports. He has to act now,” Montemayor said, adding that the tariff rate should be at 60 percent to 70 percent initially based on their computation.
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