FINANCE Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has called on lawmakers to support President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive allowing increased pork imports at lower tariff rates for a temporary period to address the scarcity in the domestic supply of hog meat and ensure that pork remains affordable to Filipino families already reeling from the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dominguez said the recommendation to the President to temporarily reduce pork import tariffs and increase the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) on pork imports was made by him and the Economic Development Cluster after extensive deliberations and consultations among concerned agencies and the public, with all the tradeoffs considered in the cost benefit analysis done on this major consumer concern.
At the same time, Dominguez, as chairman of the Land Bank of the Philippines, said the government, through Landbank, will double its support for domestic hog raisers and feed millers by providing them with loans for repopulating their stock and for feed milling.
In a letter addressed to Sen. President Vicente Sotto III, Dominguez said he is taking full responsibility for supporting and recommending Executive Order (EO) 128, which temporarily modified the rates of the import duties on fresh, chilled and frozen meat of swine and increased the MAV on such imports.
Dominguez pointed out in his letter to Sotto that the period of the tariff adjustment under the EO emphasizes that “this is a short-term effort that does not aim to harm the domestic industry” and is actually “complementary to the programs of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in helping the domestic hog industry to recover.”
“I would like to take this opportunity to urge the Senate to support this measure so that some 100 million Filipinos who eat pork, especially the poor, will not be penalized by high food prices. If left unresolved, poverty and malnutrition will increase,” Dominguez said in his letter.
“Elevated pork prices will add another problem to households whose incomes have already been heavily strained by the Covid-19 pandemic. With African swine fever (ASF) raging through farms for almost two years, data show that domestic supply will remain inadequate for the needs of consumers,” he added.
Pork prices in the National Capital Region have already reached as high as P327 per kilo in March 2021, which is 59 percent higher compared to the prices last year.
In March 2021, meat inflation increased to 20.9 percent and was the top contributor to overall inflation of 1.4 percentage points, even higher than the one percent contribution to inflation of rice at the height of the 2018 rice crisis.
Dominguez said to resolve the ASF crisis gripping the domestic hog industry, the DA has put in place several programs, among them, repopulating the swine population, compensating producers for losses in culled hogs, and investing in long-term solutions to the problems of the swine industry.
He pointed out though, that these are medium-term and long-term solutions that will not immediately address the current price pressures affecting pork consumers.
Contrary to misperceptions, the DA does not intend to rely on importation alone to solve supply issues in the long haul, Dominguez said.
“Even with increased imports, a large part of domestic demand is expected to be covered by domestic production, which the DA will aggressively support with improved implementation of its hog production assistance and repopulation program,” he said.
Dominguez said the proposed pork import program will cover only 22.8 percent of total domestic consumption. (PR)