Importation should only be ‘last resort’ in solving pork shortage – Zubiri

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture (DA) should only allow increased importation of pork as “a last resort” to offset the shortage of local pork due to an outbreak of African swine fever (ASF), Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri stressed during a Senate Committee of the Whole hearing held on Monday.

The Senate conducted the hearing in the light of the recently signed Executive Order No. 128, which reduces pork import tariffs from 40% to 5%, according to a statement issued by Zubiri’s office.

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As the DA had endorsed the order, Zubiri questioned Agriculture Secretary William Dar during the hearing about the “unabated importation of choice cuts for local consumption to the detriment of the local producers of pork products.”

“I’ve gone through four administrations, and I’ve seen that the usual policy of the DA is to import,” he told Dar in Filipino. “Whenever there’s a problem in prices, the immediate reaction of the DA is to import. What the reaction of the DA should be is: ‘Wait, we should help our farmers rather than the farmers in other countries. The joke among local farmers and cooperatives is that the DA should be renamed as the Department of Importation.”

Dar agreed, adding that the department, under his tenure, had been working toward strengthening the local industry, but progress had been slow due to a lack of budget.

Zubiri recalled that he had already warned the DA of the looming threat of ASF way back in March 2019, during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food. Back then, he recommended a ban on pork imports not only from ASF-hit countries but also their neighboring countries.

“Still ASF was able to get in because of importation and smuggling, and now farmers in Luzon are totally devastated. I know people who are down to zero hogs on their farms now,” Zubiri said.

“And with the executive order on the increased importation as well as the lowering of the import tariffs of imported pork products, the more they will lose money,” he went on. “If we import, we damage the local industry. So we appeal to the DA to revise the EO. This is a big blow to our producers. Even at a 40 percent tariff, they [the imports] are cheaper than local products. Now you lower it even more to 5 percent.”

Zubiri tagged the situation as a “triple whammy.”

“The farmers lost money. Then the government also lost money because of the loss in taxes. And what’s worse is that the price of pork is still high,” he said.

To soften the blow, he made this proposal: “We’re also calling on the executive to declare a state of calamity with regard to ASF so that we can release loans to our affected farmers. Let’s help the industry help itself, and let’s reverse the policy of always importing agricultural products.”

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