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Importers seek low meat tariffs; locals balk

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MEAT importers are lobbying the economic managers to lower the tariff rate levied across all meat products, including offal, to just 5 percent, arguing that it would keep inflation in check amid global economic and food challenges. The biggest farm coalition called out the importers’ bloc, however, reminding them that with government support being anemic, “tariff is the local industry’s last refuge.”

“We write regarding the ongoing MFN [Most Favored Nation] tariff review. MITA had proposed that all meat and edible offal be levied a 5 percent rate across the board,” the Meat Importers and Traders Association (Mita) said in a letter addressed to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan dated May 22.

The letter was also submitted to President Marcos Jr., who concurrently sits as the agriculture chief, and to various Cabinet secretaries like Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno and Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual.

A copy of the letter was also sent to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Felipe Medalla.

In its letter, Mita argued that the expiry of the current temporary low tariff rates on pork products would cause an uptick in meat prices that could hurt Filipino consumers.

The latest Executive Order, which was issued by the sitting president, extended the lower in-quota and out-quota tariffs on pork, which are 15 percent and 25 percent, respectively, until the end of the year.

“Needless to say, reversion to a higher duty rate will further raise the cost of imported pork meat and discourage imports,” said the letter, which was signed by Mita’s President Sherwin Choi and President Emeritus Jesus C. Cham.

The group has argued anew that the recovery of the local hog sector would take at least five years before domestic pig output returns to pre-African swine fever (ASF) levels.

“The five-year period was premised on the containment of ASF or the discovery of a vaccine, none of which has materialized. We are now in the fourth

year, and [Department of Agriculture] has just forecast a pork shortage for the coming months,” it said.

“Clearly, the hog recovery is not going well. It is timely to now maintain low tariff for the next five years,” it added.

The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) disputed Mita’s arguments. “Tariff protects the local industry because the cost of production in the [country] source of imports is low,” being “heavily subsidized by their respective governments,” Sinag said in a statement.

“In the absence of comprehensive government support, tariff is the local industry’s last refuge,” the coalition added.

It chided Mita for, as it said in Filipino, acting as if “they’re the only ones who should survive.”

Barely hiding its sarcasm, it said Mita should not just wish for lower tariffs, but “go for zero percent across the board.”

Then, it could ask Neda “as well to slaughter all local livestock and don’t give any kind of budgetary support to local livestock. Close down all local hogfarms, close down feedmills, and close down animal nutrition and animal health companies.”

It stressed that “a million plus Filipinos” rely directly on the P160-billion livestock industry, and compared these “to a few dozen privileged importers na laging kinakatigan ng Neda [that Neda always sides with]?

Finally, Sinag pointed out that “reducing tariffs, just like unlimited and ill-timed imports, did not…redound to reduced retail prices—the very crux of Mita’s self serving letter to Neda.”

Declining pork production

Mita in its letter noted that global pork production is declining and is projected to further drop due to various global economic challenges.

It added that regional neighbors have already reduced tariffs on pork meat and approved more countries of origin to expand their import sources. The group explained that this is being down by other countries through the “application” of international guidelines and principles on regionalization.

“The Philippines should follow suit and diversify her sources,” the group said.

Mita noted that pork meat is “crucial” to the Filipino diet, claiming that it is “necessary to maintain its availability and affordability” of the meat product.

“Unfortunately, the uncertainty on whether the tariffs would revert to the previous rates hangs over our heads like the proverbial sword of Damocles,” it said.

The group urged the government to fast-track the completion of the Tariff Commission’s comprehensive review of all of the country’s MFN rates. The Tariff Commission is an attached agency of the National Economic and Development Authority.

“We do not wish to see repeats of the previous years wherein the same uncertainty caused importers to hedge and over-purchase, resulting in massive congestion in our ports and cold stores,” it said.

“Hence we request for clarity and certainty on the outcome of the review—whether the current rates would be reduced, maintained or revert to the higher rates,” it added.

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