MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to allow more pork imports at lower tariffs for a temporary period is an “immediate and practicable” response to avoid price spikes, Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said Tuesday.
During the resumption of the Senate Committee of the Whole inquiry into the food crisis resulting from the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak, Dominguez said the measure was intended to protect Filipino consumers form price spirals that could further drive up inflation and undermine the country’s economic recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The DOF chief noted that the spike in meat prices this year has unduly jacked up food inflation, thus “exacerbating the problems of unemployment, hunger and reduced or lost incomes for many Filipinos” that have led people to rely on community pantries for aid.
Dominguez, a former agriculture secretary, said that although the presidential directive appears to be a painful solution as it would lead to a revenue loss of P13.68 billion for the government, this would actually slash pork prices to a level estimated to save Filipino consumers a whopping P67.38 billion.
“The worse we could do in a situation like the one we are facing today is to let supply issues force food prices up even more. If food prices rise, the inflation rate also increases. If the inflation rate rises, interest rate increases will follow. This unhealthy chain of events will make economic recovery even more difficult for all,” the finance chief told senators.
“The short-term and only practicable strategy for the current problem is contained in Executive Order 128,” he added.
EO 128 temporarily cuts the tariff rate on pork imports within the minimum access volume (MAV) quota to 5 percent, from the current rate of 30 percent, for the first three months upon the effectivity of the presidential directive. The reduced rate will go up to 10 percent for the next nine months thereafter.
It also increases the MAV quota for pork from 54,210 metric tons (MT) to 404,210 MT.
“Again, more than the economics of it, EO 128 is a response to protect our people from shortages and price spikes during this difficult time. We need to do it now for the sake of our countrymen,” Dominguez said.
He also explained that the increase in the MAV quota for pork factors in the estimated supply deficit for 2021 at up to 477,000 MT based on estimates by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
“Thus, the temporary increase in pork imports will not ‘kill’ the local hog industry as feared by some quarters, given that imports would potentially account for only up to 22.8 percent of total consumption,” Dominguez said.
The Finance chief also emphasized that the decision to adjust pork import tariffs “was not done haphazardly, but underwent extensive deliberations and consultations among the public and concerned agencies, with all the tradeoffs considered in the cost-benefit analysis.”
“We are not giving up on the domestic pork industry. The interventions of the Department of Agriculture to help the industry are aggressive. They expect them to yield even greater benefits once a permanent solution to the ASF outbreak becomes available,” Dominguez said.