BY PET MELLIZA/ THE BEEKEEPER
Decades under trade liberalization have resulted in the surge of agricultural imports in the local market, which have led to unprecedented bankruptcy of farmers and the country’s food insecurity. This situation will get even worse if the rice QR extension does not push through because of US opposition, IBON warned. (http://ibon.org/ibon_articles.php?id=235)It’s not the weather alone that favors rice farmers blessed by rains that enable them to plant almost continuously unlike before when they followed the seasonal chart that allowed only one cropping yearly. Credit that, too, on the Department of Agriculture which imposed QR on rice imports.“QR” stands for “quantitative restriction”the DA wrangled from the World Trade Organization. That privilege expires end of June and the DA wants it extended. Palay prices range from P14 to P17 per kilo even for slightly dried grains. Now, farmers from San Joaquin in southern Iloilo to Carles up north are assured twice: one, they may continue planting and two, the palay they produce enjoys price margins.The pricing has stabilized because light has dawned on one government department which realizes that imported rice is tantamount to subsidy for foreign farmers to the detriment of locals. The DA also promulgated Department Administrative Order (DAO) 22 which regulates imported frozen meat.Will the WTO grant the application for extension of the QR on rice? The DA faces an uphill battle as no less than two super powers oppose it, the United States and Canada which we thought are our friends.At least, there is one super power that supports the application, the People’s Republic of China, which last year was at the receiving end of the PNoy administration’s saber rattling over the W. Philippine Sea. (It’s hilarious: initially, PNoy and his gang bellicosely yelped on the military might of Uncle Sam to scare China off. However, they balked when China flexed its naval muscle with the US turning to the other direction while its squire, the PNoy government, dropped its tail between its legs.)Filipino hog farmers threatened to stage a market “holiday” in protest against the deluge of frozen imported pork. It appears that DAO 22 fails to address the hog farmers’ woes given their persistent uproar. The US sees DAO 22 as restriction to its imports by requiring that pork be properly labeled as to their states of origin and their deliveries done by refrigerated vans as public health measure.The US wants the Philippines to ease down the measure by dispensing with refrigerated vans, and in its stead, mere coolers.That is plain and simple blackmail. The US is twisting the arms of the Philippines to soften DAO 22 as sine qua non to its non-opposition to the latter’s application for extension of the QR.If it dispensed with restriction on pork imports as demanded by the US, the Philippines protects merely a segment of the agriculture sector but sacrifices the other, the hog producers which also need equal protection.The US is the undisputable preacher of the animal called “free trade” but it is the world’s premier protectionist regime.Under “free trade”, private business is presumed more efficient than government hence, must be spared government intervention, especially, protection and subsidy. Try visiting farmlands in the US and you will readily see direct and indirect state subsidies enjoyed by US farmers in the forms of modern infrastructures (especially transport network and irrigation), cheap electricity, soft loans, scholarships, unemployment insurance, and services by its agriculture department.An American farmer whose herd of cattle is threatened by disease can call the local agriculture office and in minutes, a technicians arrives by car in response to the SOS. That doesn’t and cannot happen to the Philippines because of shortage of agriculturists and resources.
For instance, Maasin, a prosperous town with over 30,000 people and 30 kilometers west of Iloilo City, has only four farm technicians. Calls for help from nearby farmers to the town’s agriculture office beside the munisipyo can’t get immediate response because it has only one vehicle, a rickety “multi-cab” donated by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.The technicians may be dedicated public servants but their hands are tied because they have no fuel allowance for their personal motorcycles to visit their constituents.
Rice QR should be extended