DTI: Rice to cost ₱38/kg after 'unimpeded' imports

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 10) — The selling price of imported regular milled rice is expected to cost about ₱38 a kilogram after new stocks come in unimpeded from abroad, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said on Wednesday.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) confirmed the rate with a proposed price list that sets well-milled rice at ₱42 a kilogram, whole grain at ₱45, and fancy rice at ₱50.

"We can be assured... that ₱38 imported rice to be available as soon as possible. The consumers will have access to that immediately," Lopez told CNN Philippines' The Source.

He also assured a steady rice supply by November.

Malacañang announced this month that President Rodrigo Duterte approved "unimpeded" rice imports amid rising prices in the country. Lopez clarified this means the National Food Authority (NFA) has relaxed rules on who can import, but those importing must still claim a permit and pay tariffs.

Although the Palace says the order is effective immediately, the NFA is still awaiting clearer guidelines.

"All the things that will be implemented should be approved by the [NFA] Council, so that there would be really clear guidelines to follow," said NFA Regional Director Angel Imperial, Jr.

The Council is chaired by Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol, who is disputing presidential spokesman Harry Roque's claim regarding unimpeded imports.

Meanwhile, Lopez said the DTI is pushing for traders with retail outlets and retailers to be able to import rice directly, "as long as [they] commit to us at ₱38 pricing."

The DTI says some abusive retailers are jacking up prices even without reason, amid the high inflation rate.

"Once it is signed, we're going to implement it strictly... we have been clamoring for help from the private sector, pero hindi rin natin sila macontrol mag-take advantage [but we can't (stop) them from taking advantage]," said Trade Undersecretary Ruth Castelo.

Amid a record high inflation rate and controversy surrounding the NFA, the average retail price of rice nationwide shot up to ₱43.47 per kilogram in the first half of the year. During a shortage in Zamboanga City last August rice prices shot to ₱54 to ₱70 per kilogram.

While the imports are meant to bring down pricing, some sectors fear it will drive local farmers out of business. The trade secretary pegs locally produced rice to cost between ₱44 to ₱45.

"If there's good harvest, maybe it can go down to ₱40. But at least the imported will be more stable at ₱38," said Lopez. "May option si consumer [The consumer has an option]."

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the Philippines is the eighth largest producer of milled rice worldwide — but it is also among the top importers. Local produce is more expensive due to higher production costs.

But Lopez maintained that local farmers would not be hurt as 35 percent of tariffs would be used to support them. "It won't [hurt them], especially if we allow a specific price range... If you set [it] at ₱38, hindi iyan bababa sa (it won't fall below) ₱35 or ₱30, [which] will kill the farmers," he added.

Lopez' assurances of lower prices contrasts with the opinion of Albay Representative Joey Salceda, whom House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed as focal person for counter-inflation measures. Salceda said earlier this week that he is not counting on the prices of rice and fish to return to their rates before inflation. 

A cap on prices of meat?

Lopez said that the DTI was also studying imposing a price cap on certain products, such as chicken.

He said as farmgate prices "move up and down, we just have to adjust the retail price also up and down."

The DTI is also keeping an eye on the prices of chicken and pork. The farmgate price of pork is pegged at ₱130 per kilogram, while its retail prices is about ₱200. But some retailers go as high as ₱260.

The farmgate price of chicken is between ₱70 to ₱75 per kilogram, and its retail price can go between ₱120 to ₱125.

Consumers who see prices way above these are urged to report the retailers to the DTI consumer hotline 1-dti or 1384.

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Ina Andolong contributed to this story.