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‘Govt won’t import rice to boost buffer stock’

Mar 07 2017

March 05, 2017 ( by Business Mirror )


The interagency National Food Authority Council (NFAC) said it has rejected proposals to import rice via a government-to-government transaction in the first half of the year to boost the country’s buffer stock.

Cabinet Secretary Leoncio B. Evasco Jr., ex-officio chairman of the NFAC, said National Food Authority Administrator Jason Laureano Y. Aquino’s proposal to import via government to government was thumbed down by the council.

In an interview last Thursday, Undersecretary Maia Chiara Halmen Reina A. Valdez of the Office of the Cabinet Secretary (OCS) said Aquino wanted the NFA to purchase 1 million metric tons of imported rice to beef up the country’s buffer stock.

“When you import via government to government, the NFA would again incur debt, while rice imported under the minimum access volume [MAV] is paid for by the private sector,” Evasco said in a statement.
Citing the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), he said it would also be ill-advised for the government to import rice now, as Filipino farmers will harvest their crop soon.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), which is also one of the members of the NFAC, said the government is more partial to buying rice directly from local farmers to beef up the food agency’s stocks.

“Being more aligned with the Duterte’s thrust to support the farmers, the NFA Council deemed it best if the NFA would purchase its buffer stock from farmers instead of resorting to importation,” BSP Deputy Governor
Diwa C. Guinigundo said.
Aquino issued an order on March 3 directing the NFA field offices to purchase 4.6 million bags, or 230,367 metric tons (MT), from local farmers to increase the government’s buffer stock. He said the order is in time for the summer crop harvest from March to June.

Aside from local production, Evasco said the country’s rice stock will be augmented by imports bought via the MAV scheme of the World Trade Organization.

NFAC’s assurance

Evasco assured qualified rice traders that they will be allowed to bring in the remaining inbound volume of rice under the 2016 MAV until March 31.

He made the pronouncement following the “repeated refusal” of the NFA management to extend the original deadline of February 28 for the arrival of the 2016 MAV rice.

Out of the approved 692,340 MT, the NFA said 258,640.65 MT have yet to arrive in the country.

“It is not for [Aquino] to decide whether an extension of MAV is proper, let alone as to which sources of origin is entitled thereto. It is a decision, which the NFAC has to make as a collegial body. We [council] have made a decision, and we made it very clear, it is extended up to March 31,” Evasco said.

On February 27 NFAC announced that it has extended the deadline of rice imports under MAV for another month. However, in an order released on March 1, Aquino said the extension granted by the NFA is only for rice shipped from India and Pakistan.

“There’s no need to extend the deadline because there were others, including farmer cooperatives, that participated in the MAV and have complied with the deadline. If these co-ops can do it, why can’t the others?” Aquino asked.

The NFA is one of the 12 agencies that have been placed under the direct supervision of the OCS pursuant to Executive Order 1, which aimed to streamline agencies that deal with poverty reduction.

Evasco sits as the ex-officio chairman of the NFAC, while Aquino serves as its vice chairman.

Other members of the NFA Council include the BSP governor, Development Bank of the Philippines chairman, president of the Lank Bank of the Philippines (LandBank), finance secretary, trade secretary, Neda and a farmer sector’s representative.

Evasco said of the 10 members of the council, nine were present during the February 27 meeting and voted for the extension of MAV importation. Neither Aquino nor his representative attended the meeting.

“Aquino by using my name has canceled the first two NFAC meetings, thus the Council was compelled to convene the third time on February 27, during which he deliberately absent himself,” he said.

During the February 27 meeting, the NFAC has also authorized Evasco to sign import permits of qualified traders under the 2016 MAV rice-importation program. Previously, only the NFA administrator has the sole authority to sign the permits.

Under Section X of the 2016 MAV Guidelines, in order to secure an import permit, qualified rice importers should submit electronic copies of documents that they submitted to the LandBank not later than five days before the arrival of rice shipment.

Any rice inbound shipments in the country without an import permit from the NFA is considered illegal.

Because of Aquino’s refusal to implement the NFAC’s order, Evasco said Aquino is facing “serious disciplinary sanctions” that could lead to his removal as chief of the food agency.

“It seems to us that he does not have even the slightest understanding of his office and even undermining the NFAC’s authority that were causing serious prejudice to the country’s food security. We are afraid he is not fit for the job. He must be dealt with accordingly,”Evasco said.

On March 2 the OCS said the NFAC said it has already issued a directive to Aquino to immediately and strictly implement its decision pursuant to NFA Resolution 851-2017-B, which orders the extension of MAV deadline.

However, the NFA released a statement on March 3 that it sees no need to extend the arrival of rice imported under the MAV scheme.

Last December the NFA allowed 210 farmers’ organizations and private firms to import 692,340 metric tons (MT) of rice, lower than the country’s annual MAV of 802,500 MT.

The NFA list available on its web site also showed that 194 qualified rice traders, including AgriNurture Inc. and Pilmico Foods Corp., will import 642,340 MT of rice under the country specific quota (CSQ). Of the total rice to be imported under the CSQ, 293,100 MT of rice will be bought from Thailand and Vietnam.

Sixteen qualified applicants were allowed to import a total of 50,000 MT of rice under the “omnibus origin” category, according to the NFA list.