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NEDA backs push for rice imports by NFA

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By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

THE NATIONAL Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) on Wednesday backed a proposal allowing the National Food Authority (NFA) to boost rice stocks through imports during emergencies amid spiraling prices.

“I’m still in favor of strengthening the NFA’s role in buffer stocking for emergency purposes,” NEDA Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan told reporters on the sidelines of BusinessWorld’s economic forum.

“There has to be a way of sourcing the buffer stocks in a way that won’t further destabilize the market,” he said in mixed English and Filipino. “That involves, under those circumstances where production is lacking, getting the buffer stock from imports.”

If it can’t import directly, the agency should be allowed to buy rice stocks from importers to boost its stock, he added.

The Philippines is hard-pressed to ensure that it has enough rice supply amid a prolonged dry spell brought by El Niño and the looming rains from La Niña.

“Consumption is growing simply because the population is growing, so there is that gap,” Mr. Balisacan said. “When you have that gap, you have to have additional sources of supply.”

Under the Rice Tariffication Law, the NFA can only keep its buffer stock by buying rice from local farmers.  But the local shortage keeps the agency from fulfilling its mandate, Mr. Balisacan said.

State auditors in 2022 flagged the NFA’s failure to stock up on rice. The agency’s rice inventory ranged from 111,042 metric tons (MT) to 182,612 MT, far behind the national rice buffer stocking requirement of 300,000 MT, the Commission on Audit said.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed on third and final reading changes to the law, including restoring the NFA’s regulatory power over the rice industry.

House Bill No. 10381 empowers the NFA to import rice if there are no available local sources, upon the approval of the Agriculture secretary.

The NFA may also require warehouses to register in its national database. The agency may also collect and analyze data on rice trading activities.

Under the bill, a food security emergency includes a shortage in rice supply and extraordinary price increases.

The Senate has yet to pass a counterpart measure.

Mr. Balisacan said Administrative Order No. 20 issued by President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. last month would ensure timely and adequate farm imports.

The President had ordered agencies to reduce nontariff barriers and administrative restrictions on farm imports.

The government should not rely on the NFA alone to stabilize rice prices, Mr. Balisacan said. “We have been there, and we don’t want to go back to a regime that has been shown to not work.”

Local regular milled rice costs P49.37 a kilo, while well-milled rice costs P51.28, according to the Agriculture department’s latest price watch. Imported regular milled rice and well-milled rice cost P49.61 and P52.50.

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