Byline: Genalyn D. Kabiling
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has suspended quantitative restrictions on the rice and corn importation by the private sector to boost the country's reserves of the national staple, Malacanang announced yesterday.
Amid concerns over the shrinking world rice supply and soaring grain prices, Presidential Management Staff (PMS) chief Cerge Remonde said the President ordered the lifting of import quotas on rice and corn allotted to private traders last week.
The private traders must still pay the proper import tariffs on rice and corn.
"The President has announced that we are lifting all import quotas on rice and corn, meaning, any businessman can now freely import rice and corn for as long as they pay the right amount of duties and taxes," Remonde said.
He added that the imported rice and corn must immediately be sold to consumers as he warned against hoarding the grains and unnecessarily raising their prices.
"They can import as much as they want for as long as they do not withhold but channel it to the market," he said.
Remonde said the President made the decision "before or during her arrival from Hong Kong" last week.
At present, the private sector is allowed to import a maximum of 300,000 tons of rice a year. These imports are slapped a 50- percent duty.
When the proposal was made in 2006, some agriculture officials and farmers groups said suspension of rice import quotas would still require congressional approval as it needs to amend the Tariffication Act.
The Tariffication Act, enacted in 1995, imposed an import quota to protect farmers against possible flooding in the market of cheap rice.
President Arroyo has rejected proposals to cut the tariff on imported rice, saying it is impractical and would end up reducing the government's revenues.
The President is scheduled to convene a Cabinet meeting today, April 8, to look into additional measures to boost local rice supply.
Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo said the President has asked government agencies to study and recommend solutions and such other programs that will help alleviate the rising price of rice and to address the concern on rice production.
"Any and all policies shall be announced as they are perfected. We assure the people that their government, particularly the President, is on top of the situation," she said.
Mrs. Arroyo launched a R43-billion agricultural assistance package to make food abundant, accessible, and affordable. The comprehensive food security program involves pouring funds on fertilizer, irrigation, education, loans, dryers and other post-harvest facilities, and seeds.
Fajardo assured that the government's agricultural assistance package, which will be funded from the 2008 national budget and other sources, will be subjected to government auditing systems.
She said the Procurement Transparency Group, composed of the Ateneo School of Government, the Makati Business Club, and Catholic bishops, will monitor these procurement activities to ensure the funds are spent wisely.
"This is also a challenge for all civic and patriotic citizens to be vigilant and be part of the national consciousness to rid our country of graft and corruption," she said..
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