By Jasper Y. Arcalas, June 6 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business Mirror

AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol will propose to President Duterte on Monday a three-month import moratorium on pork and pork products from countries that are at high risk for African swine fever. This means that they have not reported any ASF outbreak, but are at risk because they are contiguous with infected territories.

Piñol said the proposal of the Department of Agriculture (DA) is a preventive measure aimed at ensuring stable food prices, as a decimated domestic hog population could accelerate inflation.

The proposed import ban has the backing of economic managers led by Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, he added.

“[The economic managers] saw my point that the moment ASF enters the country, can you imagine the economic problems that we will have?” he told reporters in a recent interview.

“We will run out of pork and we will import pork from other countries at a very high price. Hence, inflation will go up. These things could happen,” he added.

Piñol said economic managers vowed to yield to the DA on issues involving quarantine measures against animal diseases, such as ASF, that could cripple industries.

The DA chief said he would make the formal proposal to the President during the Cabinet meeting on Monday. Piñol said he expects the economic managers
to support him.

The DA defines high-risk countries as states that are “contiguous” to areas that experienced outbreaks of ASF, Piñol explained.

Some of the countries that could be affected by the import suspension include Thailand, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Germany, Netherlands  and France, he added.

“Our problem is that if the ASF virus enters the country, its impact is irreversible. And that is something that I cannot take for granted,” Piñol said.

If the three-month import suspension pushes through, then the Philippines would have to buy pork from other sources like the United States and Brazil, industry sources told the BusinessMirror.

However, importers and processors may face challenges in sourcing from alternative countries, as the US and Brazil offer different pork cuts.

41% of pork source

Sources said the import suspension would effectively shut down the country’s top import sources, particularly Germany—the No. 1 supplier of pork to the Philippines.

The BusinessMirror’s analysis of data indicated that Germany, the Netherlands and France, which may be covered by the proposed ban, accounted for 41.4 percent of the country’s total pork imports last year.

Pork imported from the three European countries reached 126,463.341 metric tons last year, with Germany accounting for 77,452.402 MT of the total volume.

Piñol said the three-month ban gives the DA enough time to establish more stringent quarantine measures against the fatal hog disease.

The DA has ordered the deployment of 15 meat-sniffing dogs in major airports and is planning to procure x-ray machines to complement efforts by the Bureau of Customs to avert the entry of meat products carried by passengers.

“I would ask for an exemption from the Government Procurement Act from the President to fast-track these efforts. We need to make emergency purchases,” Piñol said.

The agriculture chief said he would take full responsibility if the Commission on Audit (COA) flags the DA for its emergency procurement related to its ASF-prevention efforts.

“I am even willing to sign a document that would absolve all my employees from any responsibility on emergency purchases in preparation for ASF,” he said. “The moment ASF hits the country, we cannot argue to the stakeholders that COA hindered us from doing our jobs.”