By Dharel Placido, October 10 2018; ABS-CBN News

Image Credit to Manila Bulletin

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has certified the rice tariffication bill as urgent in a bid to bring down the prices of rice in the market, a key driver of inflation.

In letters sent to House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Duterte sought the “immediate enactment” of Senate Bill No. 1998.

The President said the proposed measure would address the urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country, prevent artificial rice shortages, reduce the prices of rice in the market, and curtail the prevalence of corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry.

Finance Assistant Secretary Tony Lambino said the bill is key to bringing down rice prices by P2 to P7 per kilo.

“Tariffication also means that non-tariff barriers are also taken down such as removing the need to get an import license from the NFA (National Food Authority), which is one reason for high rice prices,” Lambino told reporters.

Lambino said the finance department is supporting the Senate version of the bill.

“In the bicam (bicameral conference), we must support the Senate version as the House version retains the import licensing power of NFA,” he said.

Lambino outlined three benefits from imposing tariffs on rice: lower prices, lower inflation and resources to support farmers.

He said the central bank estimates this could cut the inflation rate by 0.7 percentage point by 2019 once the bill is passed into law.

The tariffs that will be collected, meanwhile, will be used to help improve the lives of farmers, among the poorest sectors in the country.

Economic managers have called the removal of rice import quotas as an important measure to bring down prices of the staple and help control inflation.

Farmers’ groups, however, are worried that local rice growers may be put at a disadvantage by cheaper rice imports.