By Stephanie Sevillano

PRICE DROP. Prices are displayed at a rice retail store in San Andres, Manila on May 6, 2024. The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Wednesday (June 5, 2024) expressed hope for a drop of up to PHP7 per kg. in the retail price of imported rice after tariff was slashed to 15 percent from 35 percent. (PNA file photo by Yancy Lim)

MANILA – The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Wednesday expressed hope for a significant drop in the retail prices of rice after the tariff on imported rice was slashed to 15 percent from 35 percent.

In a statement, Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. assured efforts to realize this alongside efforts to protect farmers.

“We will do everything within our power, especially those granted to the Department of Agriculture under the Price Act, to make sure the substantial cut in rice tariff will translate to a significant reduction in the retail price of the grain,” he said.

As of Wednesday, the prevailing price per kilogram of regular imported rice in Metro Manila was at PHP49 to PHP51, while that for imported well-milled rice was at PHP52 to PHP57.

DA Assistant Secretary Arnel De Mesa said the price drop in imported rice, which is expected to be at PHP6 per kg. to PHP7 per kg., may be felt by consumers starting next month, considering that the delivery of imported rice from Vietnam usually takes two to three weeks.

“In a month’s time, we can expect kung ngayon magsisimula, July, mga August iyan. We can expect na mayroon nang pagbaba within July mismo, kasi June pa naman ngayon (if it starts now, we can expect a drop [in prices] in July),” he said in a separate Zoom interview.

Twenty percentage point iyong nabawas sa tariff… So, malaking reduction iyan. Imposible na hindi iyan mararamdaman sa mga imported (That is a 20-percentage point tariff reduction… That is a huge reduction. It is impossible for it not to be felt).”

De Mesa, meanwhile, assured safeguards in local markets after the tariff cut.

Magkakaroon ng mahigpit na monitoring iyan lalo na doon sa mga imported na bigas, sa pangunguna ng ating (There will be strict monitoring, especially in imported rice, headed by our) inspectorate and enforcement unit,” he said.

Protection to farmers

Laurel, however, noted that the tariff cut may cause a potential shortfall in the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF).

He said the DA would lobby for a bigger fund next year for fertilizer, considering the expected decline in tariff collection.

“Our priority is to ensure that our rice farmers will continue to benefit from the Rice Fund created under the Rice Tariffication Law, and (we are) confident it will be extended until 2030 to improve the lives of millions of impoverished rice farmers,” he said.

Under RCEF, a PHP10 billion fund is allocated from tariffs to benefit farmers through mechanization, distribution of seeds, fertilizers, training, and technology, among others, with the excess collection allotted to the Rice Farmer Financial Assistance (RFFA).

Laurel also promised to push for a “reasonable” buying price of palay from local farmers through the National Food Authority (NFA).

The NFA buys dry palay at PHP23 per kg. to PHP30 per kg. (PNA)