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NFA says rice dealers do not want to sell lower-grade grains

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NFA Rice on Wheels
A woman buys NFA rice at a store set up by Department of Trade and Industry in Brgy. Commonwealth in Quezon City last Sept. 18. -- PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

THE National Food Authority (NFA) said the market is running short of regular-milled rice, which it says should force a rethink of the private-sector led-importation rules to increase the availability of the affordable type of the staple.

“Nobody wants to sell regular milled, which is not the whitest variety. Everyone wants to sell well-milled,” Judy Carol L. Dansal, Deputy Administrator for the grains agency’s Marketing Operations, told Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez during talks at the NFA headquarters last week.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has threatened to issue an order that will revoke business permits of retailers who do not sell the more affordable type of rice, as consumers have been left to choose between well-milled and other higher-priced varieties.

The DTI was seeking to bring down the price of the staple grain after inflation hit 6.4% in August.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, well-milled rice sold for an average of P48.93 per kilogram in the second week of September, up 15.73% from a year earlier and up 1.1% from the prior week.

Regular-milled rice prices averaged P45.71 per kg., up 20.26% from a year earlier and up 0.97% from a week earlier.

The suggested retail price for regular-milled rice is P39 per kg. set by the Department of Agriculture (DA) in June.

Due to the unenforceability of the DA price ceiling after the NFA reported the disappearance of regular-milled rice from the market, the DTI asked the NFA to accredit importers shipping in rice graded at 25% brokens.

For domestic procurement, the NFA recognizes three categories of regular-milled rice, graded RD1 to RD3 in descending order of price, and three grades of well-milled rice graded WD1 to WD3. A seventh category, WD1-A, commands the highest wholesale procurement price of P30 per kg.

For imported rice, the NFA lists five categories, the lowest quality being 25% brokens.

Outgoing NFA Administrator Jason Laureano Y. Aquino has said that key rice suppliers like Vietnam may be “uncomfortable” supplying lower-grade rice. The world’s top rice exporter has been improving its rice quality to minimize the content of grain fragments, which command lower prices.

The Philippines is moving to liberalize rice imports and impose a rice tariff system.

House Bill 7735 seeks to amend Republic Act No 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act to implement a system of rice tariffs. It proposes a 35% duty on imports from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with a 40% rate applying to imports from non-ASEAN countries.

It was approved on third and final reading in August while its counterpart measure in the Senate is being discussed at plenary level.

Identified as a priority bill by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, economic managers have also cited rice tariffication as one of the levers for containing inflation. — Janina C. Lim