By Vincent Mariel P. Galang, October 21 2019; Business World

Image Credit to Philippine Star

AN agribusiness association said it will sue to force the government to impose safeguard duties against imported rice, contending that the safeguard duty investigation process was improperly terminated.

In a statement, the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc. (PCAFI) said that the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the government’s economic team are “illegally” failing to protect farmers from foreign competition, and rejected as misleading their justification for not imposing additional duties to keep inflation in check.

“This is a diversionary tactic to protect those who benefited from this law which are importers. The ones favored by this law are not consumers… not farmers, but importers. They’re trying to divert us from the fact that so far the importers are the beneficiaries of the law,” PCAFI Director Elias Jose M. Inciong said.

“The government really looks down on farmers. It is in bad faith to even argue that safeguards are inflationary. They’re in bad faith for refusing to implement the law,” he added.

Section 7 of Republic Act (RA) No. 8800 or the Safeguard Measures Act authorizes government officials to make an initial determination that increased imports have caused harm to domestic industry. Any finding of unfair foreign competition must be issued within 30 days from receipt of the petition or a motu proprio initiation of the preliminary safeguard investigation.

The Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 11203, or the Rice Tariffication Law allows the imposition of a special safeguard duty to protect domestic farmers.

PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto said the P3-billion cash assistance to farmers, which the DA and he government’s economic team resorted to after terminating its safeguard duty investigation, is in itself a violation of the law.

“Farmers don’t plant to save the agriculture industry. They plant to sustain their livelihood, to have income. The government should now see farmers not as welfare beneficiaries, but as a business sector that needs to profit,” he said.

In response to the government’s position that it is looking after the interests of consumers, Mr. Fausto said: “Farmers are also consumers… farmers don’t have the money to buy (if they are made to accept low prices for their crops).”

Asked to comment, Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar told reporters, “There is no violation. That is their own thinking only.”

“Of course they will always have their own position, but government has to see the broader sense of things,” adding that safeguard duties can still be resorted to in the future, “at the right time.” — Vincent Mariel P. Galang