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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Slowdown in issuance of spsics stays as tool to manage rice imports

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THE Philippines will continue its practice of “managing” the entry of rice imports by slowing down the issuance of pertinent import documents during harvest seasons as authorities “balance” local production and foreign supplies.

However, high-ranking agriculture officials hinted that they may issue fewer sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPSICs) that would cover import arrivals in the first half should official figures indicate abundant supply.

Senior Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo F. Panganiban revealed that due to sufficient stocks, the Department of Agriculture (DA), through the Bureau of Plant Industry, is not yet “on the verge” of issuing SPSICs for rice imports that would arrive in the first quarter of next year.

Panganiban explained that the department continues to review the country’s rice supply situation, including production figures to manage the volume of imports that will arrive in the country.

“Importation has been going on without SPSICs. There has been no SPSICs issued by the BPI. So we shall not import anymore,” he said at a press briefing on Monday.

Agriculture Undersecretary Mercedita A. Sombilla emphasized that the BPI’s current practice of slowing down on SPSICs, when local harvest season is nearing, shall remain in place.

“The review of SPSIC applications does not stop. But what is happening actually now is that during the peak harvest season, the BPI’s approval of SPSICs becomes very slow because again we are balancing production and the import arrivals,” Sombilla explained.

The country’s rice imports has reached a record-level of over 3.5 million metric tons (MMT) as of early December, which Sombilla described as a “blessing in disguise” since it compensated the reduction in local output due to higher production costs driven by expensive fertilizer and fuel.

Since the rice trade liberalization law took effect in 2019, authorities have been looking for ways to manage the arrival of rice imports to avert an oversupply that would depress farm-gate prices of local palay.

One of the ways the government limits the entry of rice imports especially during harvest seasons is by slowing down on the issuance of SPSICs.

The last time the BPI issued SPSICs for rice imports was June 6, with a corresponding volume of a little over 625,000 MT.

The BPI, an attached agency of the DA, is mandated under Republic Act 11203 or the RTL law to oversee rice importation through issuance of SPSIC. The SPSIC is a required import document that certifies an imported good or product is safe for human consumption and health and does not bring in any threats to the local agriculture sector such as plants and animals.

Nonetheless, the agriculture officials assured the public that the country will not face a rice shortage next year. The worst scenario, they pointed out, would be smaller than average beginning rice stocks at the start of 2023.

“There will be no shortage of rice next year. In fact, we are hoping to maintain the level of production from last year to this year,” Agriculture Assistant Secretary Arnel V. De Mesa said. The country’s palay output last year reached a record high of 19.96 MMT.

The Philippines’s habit of using SPSICs as a mechanism to manage the entry of food imports has been questioned by its trade-partners, especially the United States, at the level of the World Trade Organization. (Related story: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2021/10/04/us-to-phl-clarify-license-scheme-for-agri-imports/)

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