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DA, NEDA at odds over extension of rice quota

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MANILA – The Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) are at loggerheads over the extension of the country’s rice quota.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said the DA is not keen about pursuing discussions on trade reforms, adding that the department would rather see through the extension of the country’s quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice.

“We are on a wait-and-see posture, especially now that we are so close in securing the nod for our QR extension,” Alcala told reporters last week.

The Philippines allows only a limited volume of rice to enter the country under its QR, which was supposed to have ended last year. The quota had been extended more than once, requiring Manila to negotiate with other member-countries of the World Trade Organization that stand to lose from this protection.

The DA has been pushing for another five-year extension of the QR, but the NEDA recently proposed that the Philippines end the quota and replace it with tariff protection of as much as 40 percent.

In pushing for tariff protection, NEDA said the revenues that the government stands to gain could be used to subsidize palay farmers through a cash-for-work type of scheme similar to the conditional cash transfer program.

The DA however insists that the QR is needed to ensure the country meets its rice self-sufficiency target by next year.

“We plan to keep it that way… until such time that our palay farmers are ready for trade liberalization,” Alcala said.

Assistant Secretary Romeo Recide said the government is eyeing to end negotiations with trading partners for the extension of the QR by next month.

 “We are very positive that we will acquire consensus with interested countries, which would allow us to operate under a new quantitative restriction extension,” he said, adding that the WTO Committee on Trade in Goods is meeting on the matter on April 9 in Geneva.

The Philippines has yet to secure the consent of Australia, Canada, Thailand and the US for the extension. Manila already bagged the approval of China, India and Indonesia.

We’re expecting to gain approval and endorsement of the [Committee on Trade in Goods]. In fact, we are urging them to progress speedily on their decision since we only have that much time,” Recide said.

“If there’s no further opposition from the four remaining countries, then the WTO Committee on Trade and Goods will submit an official position to the General Council, which in turn will confirm the extension of our quantitative restriction until 2017,” he added.

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