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Farmers back SGS role in deterring smuggling

A FARMERS’ organization expressed support on Wednesday for a government plan to expand the role of Switzerland’s Société Générale de Surveillance SA (SGS) in curbing the smuggling of agricultural goods.

In a statement, Leonardo Q. Montemayor, former Agriculture secretary and chairman of the Federation of Free Farmers, said the SGS formerly operated in the Philippines until its overseas pre-shipment inspection and clearance functions reverted to the Bureau of Customs (BoC) in 2000.

“Since then, smuggling of farm and fisheries products has grown by leaps and bounds. This has caused tremendous financial losses to the government and the agricultural sector, and has compromised the health and safety of consumers,” he said.

He said that a “reputable” pre-shipment inspection company “can be very helpful in addressing the persistent undervaluation and misdeclaration of agricultural imports, which is resulting in tens, if not hundreds of billions of lost customs collections every year.”

Last month, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., the concurrent secretary of Agriculture, said he is considering pre-shipping inspection of imported agricultural commodities to curb smuggling, following a meeting with SGS executives.

SGS maintains a local unit, SGS Philippines, Inc.

Mr. Marcos said pre-shipment schemes streamline the import process by allowing early payments of duty prior to the arrival of the shipments.

Mr. Montemayor asked Mr. Marcos and Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno to amend the implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act No. 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.

The amendments should empower the Department of Agriculture (DA), in coordination with the BoC and other agencies, to file complaints against alleged smugglers of agricultural goods, he said.

Mr. Montemayor noted that the DA has seized P2.2 billion worth of agri-fishery products and filed 49 cases against suspected smugglers under the newly created anti-smuggling unit led by Assistant Secretary James A. Layug, despite the “limited funding and manpower and legal ambiguities about the DA’s power.” — Sheldeen Joy Talavera

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