Government eyes lifting of price ceiling on pork, chicken

Agriculture Secretary William Dar on Monday said they would study the possibility of recommending to President Rodrigo Duterte the lifting of the price ceiling on pork and chicken.

“We are going to study the Price Act or the price ceiling if it can already be stopped or recommended to the President or not. We will study that,” said Dar during the hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food.

The committee, led by chairperson Sen. Cynthia Villar, is looking into the alarming increases in the prices of basic commodities, including pork and chicken, and the actions taken by the DA.

Duterte’s Executive Order 124 has set price ceilings of P270 for a kilo of “kasim or pigue,” P300 per kilo for “liempo,” and P160 per kilo for dressed chicken

Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has directed the Bureau of Customs to keep a tighter watch over the possible misdeclaration or misclassification of pork shipments entering the country.

These are done by importers attempting to dodge the correct payment of tariffs on these products amid the current supply shortfall and retail price spiral, Dominguez said.

In a statement Monday, the Department of Finance said Dominguez issued the order after President Duterte approved in principle during the Cabinet meeting held on Feb. 3 the recommendation of the Department of Agriculture to expand the minimum access volume allocation for pork imports.

The Tariff Commission has already submitted its recommendation on increasing the MAV to the President, according to the DA.

Aimed at boosting pork imports, the DA said the expansion of the MAV will help offset soaring pork prices amid the outbreak of the African Swine Fever in the country, which has significantly reduced the pork output of local producers and jacked up market prices.

“Please take a close look at the potential smuggling of pork,” Dominguez told Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero during a recent DOF executive committee meeting.

President Duterte was scheduled to hold a Cabinet meeting Monday night but it was not clear if lifting limits on pork imports and pork supply woes would be discussed, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.

Roque said among the possible agenda was the planned transition to modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) protocol, which expands public transport and business operations, including eased limits on mass gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The consumer group SUKI resounded the call for subsidies for producers as the latter expressed difficulty amid decreasing pork prices in some public markets.

Hog raisers and other producers continue to oppose the government’s enforcement of a price cap on pork and other agricultural products because the cost of production remains high.

In the immediate term, SUKI officials agreed that the government should provide livestock and poultry raisers indemnification and support from the consequences of the African Swine Flu.

The government can also mandate a decrease in the prices or subsidize the wide range of production inputs such as water, electricity, fuel, fertilizers and feeds, as well as transportation and storage, it said in a statement.

In the last hearing, Villar noted the senators’ opposition to the proposal to reduce tariffs on pork importation to as low as 5 percent as it would further burden local hog raisers who are already suffering from the African swine flu.

Sen. Imee Marcos, on the other hand, sought clarification from the DA on its proposal to increase the Minimum Access Volume for pork to address local demand.

She expressed confusion over the “conflicting” MAV figures the DA has reportedly been proposing.

“Originally, the current MAV for pork is 54,000 metric tons (MT), but in the last hearing we were told that it will be raised to 162,000 MT.

Now, the DA is saying that it will be 404,210 MT, which is eight times the previous MAV,” Marcos said.

But Dar replied that the DA submitted only one figure to Malacanang which was 404,210 MT of pork or the projected deficit this year based on the analysis of the government and various stakeholders.

Dar said the regular MAV is 54,210, then the proposed MAV plus that have been discussed in a cabinet meeting is 350,000 MT, so that will bring the total MAV to 404,210 MT.

MAV refers to the volume of a specific agricultural product that is allowed to be imported with a lower tariff as committed by the Philippines to the World Trade Organization.

Sen. Nancy Binay asked DA official to submit their programs such as the repopulation of the hog industry and the methodology they used in data gathering.

She said the DA has yet to submit the documents she requested, and that the DA has conflicting figures on the damage to the hog industry.

Meanwhile, Sen. Grace Poe quizzed DA officials whether the agency has the capability to inspect all imported meats so as not to infect local farm animals, particularly hogs, which were wiped out by 70 percent in Luzon due to the African swine fever.

She also inquired from them if they have loan provisions as a buffer for livestock raisers so they will not fall deeply into debt during a livestock crisis.

Also in the Senate, Senator Francis Pangilinan said the difference of $1.35 per kilo on the projected price of imported pork from the DA and the Bureau of Customs could cost the country P26 billion.

“The DA says it’s 3 dollars a kilo, while the BoC says it’s 1.65 dollars,” he said after the Senate hearing.

“At 404.2 million kilos, that price difference is equivalent to over 544 million dollars or over 26 billion pesos, calculating at 48 pesos to the dollar,” he added.

During Monday’s hearing on rising food prices, Pangilinan pointed out the discrepancy between DA and BoC figures in the estimated cost per kilo for the proposed minimum access volume of 404,210 metric tons.

For his part, Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go called on the DA to continually lay down long-term solutions towards food security.

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