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PHL tells WTO will review food importation policies

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THE Marcos administration may review the Philippines’s food trade measures, particularly rules on onion importation, that are allegedly being used by the government to “unduly” restrict agricultural exports to the country.

In its official communication to a World Trade Organization (WTO) committee, the Philippines explained that the new agriculture department leadership may review the country’s existing sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance (SPS-IC) rules on food imports.

It was the Philippines’s response to the series of questions fielded by the United States at the WTO regarding the former’s alleged practice of using the SPS-IC system to “restrict flow of trade.”

Washington has long expressed concern over Manila’s SPS-IC system, which it argued has been limiting the entry of foreign agricultural products to the Philippines.

“As a new administration has taken over the leadership of the Department of Agriculture, the Capital authorities could possibly review this measure,” the Philippines told the WTO Committee on Agriculture.

“We will inform the Committee of developments on this regard,” it added. President Marcos Jr. concurrently sits as the country’s agriculture secretary.

The last time that Washington pressed Manila at the WTO regarding the Philippines’s food trade policies was in a September CoA meeting. (Related story: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2022/09/29/us-prods-phl-on-restrictive-agri-trade-policies/)

“The United States remains concerned that the SPS-IC [SPS Import Clearance] system is used to restrict the flow of trade,” Washington said in one of its questions raised during the September meeting.

The US raised the matter during the WTO CoA meeting, as it inquired about the statement of the Philippines’s former Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar’s on limiting onion imports.

Washington noted that the Philippines will “manage” the importation of onion through the issuance of a Certificate of Necessity to Import, which will specify the volume to be imported and specific period for import arrival.

Chickens, too

The US has also been inquiring if the Philippines has been intentionally limiting the entry of whole chickens by not issuing the necessary SPS-ICs for importation.

The Department of Agriculture, through a deputy spokesperson, earlier pronounced that the government will not import onions as long as there is “available” local supply.

The department maintained that importing onions would remain as a “last resort” to pull down the elevated retail price of the commodity in the domestic market. (Related story: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2022/12/06/phl-govt-stands-firm-no-onion-importations/)

Agriculture Deputy Spokesperson Rex Estoperez said the department will only authorize the importation of the onion if existing local supplies are not released to the market to help ease the price of the commodity.

Estoperez noted that the country has an inventory of around 15,000 metric tons at present.

“Importation is out of the question, we will not allow it. We do not have any plans,” he told reporters on Monday.

“[But] if the [local] supply will not be released to pull down the prices, worse comes to worst, we will import,” he added.

The country is reeling from the prices of red onion, now fetching an average of P280 per kilogram—nowhere near the P180 per kilogram average price a year ago—due to supply problems.

The country’s total onion imports from January to September declined by more than half year-on-year to 26,110.021 metric tons from 53,463.693 metric tons last year, based on Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data.

The Philippines’s self-sufficiency ratio (SSR) in onions last year fell to a three-year low at 68.2 percent, PSA data showed. This meant that nearly 7 out of 10 onions consumed in the country are locally produced.

The PSA defines SSR as the “magnitude of production in relation to domestic utilization.” It is the extent to which a country’s supply of commodities is derived from its domestic production or the extent to which a country relies on its own production resources.

The Philippines produced 218,047 metric tons of onion last year and imported 101,681 metric tons of the commodity, based on PSA data.

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