By Elijah Felice Rosales, April 12 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Manila Bulletin

Prices of most basic commodities would likely stay at their current levels despite the drought brought by the El Niño phenomenon, but manufacturers of canned goods are seeking for an increase due to higher cost of inputs, according to the country’s trade chief.

In an interview with reporters, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said prices of products listed under the government’s watch list will remain stable within the duration of the summer season, stressing that El Niño has little to no effect to processed goods considered as basic necessities and prime commodities.

“As of now, there is none [reason to increase prices],” Lopez said. “We will feel the pang of El Niño maybe in two weeks, three weeks, particularly on how it will impact production. Only then will we find out if there is a need to increase prices.”

Price hikes will be largely on agricultural products, Lopez said, as the prolonged drought is taking a toll on crops. Latest report from the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management of the Department of Agriculture put damages and losses from El Niño at P5.05 billion, with an estimated volume of 276,568 metric tons, damaged farm areas of 177,743 hectares and affected 164,672 farmers.

On top of agricultural products, prices of inland fish, such as bangus, could go up, too, with El Niño drying up fish ponds intended for cultured farming, according to Lopez.

On the other hand, Lopez said catch of marine fish is sufficient and the government sees no reason to augment prices on this segment. He added it was reported to the price council that prices of tamban, the main input for sardines, could go down, as well.

In spite of the forecasted lowering of tamban prices, the trade chief said sardine makers are asking the trade department to approve an increase of P0.25 to P0.50 for canned sardines.

Tamban is the main input for canned sardines, and accounts for 47 percent of total production cost. It used to be sold at P19 per kilo, but is now at P32 per kilo to P34 per kilo.

Prices of canned sardines have been going up the past months, and latest computations reported an average increase of P0.86 among 10 brands of canned sardines.

“We have requests for price increases from sardine makers because they said the cost of their inputs are still high. We will consider a few brands, but not all [because] we have over 20 brands there,” Lopez said.

The government’s price council late Wednesday convened to discuss the impact of El Niño to basic goods, especially how affected inputs, such as tamban and sugar, could take a toll on the prices of processed food.