Govt move to raise pork importation defended

THE government needs to increase pork importation and lower the tariff on meat imports to stabilize retail prices and lower inflation, acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said on Thursday.

Chua defended the move of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to increase pork importation during the resumption of the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on the alleged “tongpats” or kickbacks in pork importation.

President Rodrigo Duterte recently issued Executive Order 128 allowing increased pork importation under the minimum access volume (MAV) scheme and lower the tariff on meat imports upon DA’s recommendation.

The planned importation of 404,000 metric tons in 2021 to 2022 — from the current 54,000 MT — was aimed at addressing scarce pork supply due to the outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) in 12 provinces nationwide.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that as of February 8, the country’s swine inventory decreased sharply by over 3.080 million heads or a 24.1 decrease from 2020 to 2021 due to ASF.

Chua said the government has projected a deficit of 476,540 metric tons (MT) of pork in 2021, hence, the need to import. Over 95 million Filipinos need pork for their protein diet.

“This is the difference between domestic production of carcass of 1.2 million MT and the demand of around 1.67 million MT based on a 15 kilogram per year consumption. On the other hand, total demand estimated at 1.67 million MT in 2021,” he said.

The acting National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) chief, noted that “after almost two years since ASF started, the date shows that we cannot meet the total demand for pork only through domestic support.”

He continued, “This strategy is not enough and has led to a spike in prices this year. If not addressed, this can lead to more malnutrition and higher poverty.”

“Hence, NEDA supports the temporary increase in the minimum access volume coupled with lower tariffs to help fill the deficit, reduce food prices, and ensure our food supply is adequate and affordable,” Chua said.

He noted the retail price of pork in March averaged P288 per kilo or 36 percent higher and reached as high as P327 per kilo. Before the ASF outbreak, prices “were stable at P224 per kilo.”

“We hope this information helps clarify some of the issues raised against the President’s decision to lower the tariff on pork and to propose the increase in the MAV,” Chua stressed.

He also assured that the temporary increase in pork importation “will not kill the local hog industry” as experts said that some of the imported meat will not flood the market since ASF also affected hog production of many countries.

Chua pointed out that the “limited cold chain facility in the country serves as a physical barrier to huge importation since the total capacity is only estimated at around 268,000 metric tons allocated for pork given the requirements for other commodities.”

“Hence, we think the 400,000 plus metric tons proposed for importation will only gradually enter the country as needed instead of being imported at the same time contrary to industry concerns,” he explained.

“If we lower the tariff rate temporarily, the five percent to 10 percent that would mean to lower the landed cost of about P215 to P222 per kilo closer to the pork retail price compared to the pork price ceiling of P350 in March and April,” he said.

The lower tariff can translate to lower retail price by P128 to P135 per kilo, Chua added.