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Farmers declare ‘moral victory’ after revisions to pork import EO

THE agriculture industry said the government’s decision to moderate drastic tariff reductions represents a “moral victory” for hog raisers, who will need to compete with the increased volume of imports.

The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) said in a statement on Thursday that the Department of Agriculture (DA) also needs to revoke all sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances that had been issued under the original terms of Executive Order (EO) 128.

“This is a moral victory for the local hog industry and a slap in the face of the pro-importation and anti-local hog raiser Secretary of Agriculture,” SINAG said.

“The Bureau of Customs must be alerted immediately on this compromise and be guided on the tariffs that should be collected once these imports arrive,” it added.

“More importantly, we demand the full implementation of the first border inspection as mandated by Republic Act No. 10611 or the Food Safety Law,” it said.

The DA said late Wednesday that the Senate and the economic team of President Rodrigo R. Duterte had agreed on final revisions to EO 128.

They include tariff rates for pork imports within the minimum access volume (MAV) quota of 10% in the first three months and increasing to 15% over the following nine months.

Tariff rates for out-of-quota pork imports were also recommended for resetting to 20% for the first three months and up to 25% in the succeeding nine months.

The proposed tariff rates are higher than those previously set by EO 128, which were 5% in the first three months and 10% in the following nine months for pork imports within the quota, and 15% in the first three months and 20% in the succeeding nine months for out-of-quota pork imports.

Before the EO, in-quota pork imports paid 30% while out-of-quota pork imports were charged 40%.

The rest of the pork value chain has indicated that the changes to the EO are acceptable.

Jesus C. Cham, Meat Importers and Traders Association (MITA) president, said in a mobile phone message that the proposed adjustments are “manageable,” adding that the market will find equilibrium at a higher price point.

Mr. Cham said the increased tariffs on pork imports will result in a corresponding adjustment in retail prices.

“The market will just find an equilibrium at a higher price point,” Mr. Cham said.

Mr. Cham said a reduction in the MAV quota allocation for pork imports will result in “disturbances” to the market, noting that the DA was never given the chance to manage import volumes.

“More volume is more comfortable. If the guidelines to be set are on a first come-first served basis, I would expect importers to try to be first in line,” Mr. Cham said.

“The additional MAV allocation has always been intended for gradual release, with a substantial volume held as contingency. Unfortunately, there is a lot of distrust and changes bring about disturbances,” he added.

MITA recently recommended that the government extend the implementation of lower tariffs on imported pork until 2025 to ensure supply while the hog industry recovers from the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak.

The DA has said that the economic team and the Senate agreed to cut the proposed increase on pork imports within the MAV quota to 254,210 metric tons (MT), from the previous 404,000 MT. MAV is applied to farm commodities that are charged lower tariffs under the World Trade Organization trading system.

In a statement Thursday, the Philippine Association of Meat Processors, Inc. (PAMPI) urged Mr. Duterte to sign the amended executive order as soon as possible.

“The joint legislative-executive action on tariff cuts and the MAV volume of 254,210 MT has prevented the national economy from being held hostage by vested interest groups,” PAMPI said.

“When leaders in government and the private sector allow reason to prevail, a rational solution to a controversy can be reached without sacrificing the interest of any party,” it added.

In a virtual briefing Thursday, DA Spokesperson Noel O. Reyes confirmed that Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar forwarded the recommended revisions to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), led by Socioeconomic and Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua.

“The NEDA board will convene on the recommended revisions for EO 128. Once approved by the NEDA Board, the revisions will be endorsed to the President,” Mr. Reyes said.

“There is no timeline yet on when the revisions will be endorsed to the President. Meanwhile, the tariffs provided under EO 128 are still in effect,” he added.

Mr. Duterte originally submitted a recommendation to Congress to increase the MAV allocation by 350,000 MT, on top of the current 54,210 MT, in order to address the DA’s projected pork deficit of around 400,000 MT after the decline in hog populations following the ASF outbreak.

In a virtual briefing Thursday, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said the revisions to EO 128 are a “done deal” and are as good as approved.

“I think it is good as approved since I talked with Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III and I gave him the go signal as far as the Senate is concerned and some of the leaders of the hog raisers that we talked to,” Mr. Sotto said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

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