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Farmers need help amid tariff cuts

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Farmers are seen in a rice field in Bustos, Bulacan, Oct. 17, 2023. — PHILIPPINE STAR/KJ ROSALES

THE GOVERNMENT should look to strengthen support for farmers to bolster domestic agricultural production, allowing it to compete with the influx of imported goods amid its decision to cut tariffs, a congressman said Monday.

The congressman sees a measure increasing farmers’ income while lowering the retail prices of rice as equally important in the government’s efforts to stifle mounting prices of rice products.

“In every policy of the government, the government should always consider… our farmers. They’re the ones who will be affected by the tariff reductions, which would result in the influx of imported products,” Party-list Rep. Wilbert T. Lee said in a statement in mixed English and Filipino.

The government earlier in June approved a revised tariff program for 2024 to 2028 — which includes a reduction of rice tariffs to 15% from 35%.

The influx of imported goods would harm the domestic agricultural industry, he said. “They would be forced to sell at a loss or be buried in debt. This would kill the livelihood of our farmers,” he said in Filipino.

Passing House Bill (HB) No. 9020 would help farmers make income as the measure mandates the government to buy local palay above prevailing farmgate prices, he said, despite the entry of imported rice products.

While Mr. Lee sees the tariff reduction as lowering the retail prices of rice, it remains a “short-term solution” as global events could affect the country’s access to the staple food.

“If farmers have sufficient income, they would be encouraged to further develop their production, and if they increase their production, there would be more supply of rice which would reduce the retail prices of rice,” said Mr. Lee in Filipino. — Kenneth Christiane L. Basilio