Customs collects ₱5.9B tariffs from imported rice

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 4) — The rice tariffication law yielded ₱5.9 billion in fresh revenues and has brought down market prices since March, the Department of Finance (DOF) said on Thursday.

Citing data from the Bureau of Customs, the agency said 1.43 million metric tons of rice have been sourced from abroad since new tariffs for imported crops took effect on March 5.

The port of Subic Bay in Zambales saw the highest collections, raising ₱1.37 billion from imports to date, the DOF said.

The Port of Manila followed with ₱978.51 million, while the Manila International Container Port yielded ₱942.76 million. Two other major gateways were the Port of Cagayan de Oro, which generated ₱754.13 million, and the Port of Davao that levied ₱703.93 million from the imported grain.

"Liberalizing rice imports has made the staple food more affordable to Filipinos, making retail prices this summer cheaper by ₱10 per kilogram (kg)," the DOF said in a statement.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that the price of well-milled rice dropped to ₱43.02 per kg as of the third week of June, down by about ₱1.21/kg from the same period in 2018.

Signed in February, Republic Act 11203 allows private companies and traders to bring in rice stocks from abroad, doing away with the old practice of clearing all importations with the National Food Authority (NFA). Tariffs are set at 35 percent for rice imports coming from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); 40 percent for imports within the 350,000 metric-ton minimum access volume (MAV), regardless of country; and 180 percent for above-MAV imports from non-ASEAN countries.

The current revenue haul is already half the ₱10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund prescribed by the law. The money is supposed to be spent on programs to help palay farmers improve their craft or transition to planting new and higher-yielding crops.

On top of the tariffs, the DOF said rice importers also need to pay and secure sanitary clearances to ensure that their crops are free from pests and diseases that could affect local supply and production.

The Philippines experienced a bout of rice shortage as well as a reported weevil or "bukbok" infestation in 2018, which pushed food prices up. The NFA and the Department of Agriculture (DA) were under fire for their reportedly slow response to grant additional imports, which caused a food-led inflation that hit a peak of 6.7 percent in September and October last year.

DA Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has resigned from his post on June 27. Meanwhile, the rice tariffication law restructures the debt-ridden NFA from its role as regulator of imports.