Department of Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said two major policies will be pushed as an official government stance for the first time since Philippines joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.
Non-tariff measures (NTMs) and a legislated Land Use Plan will be adopted by Duterte Admin as milestone policies for agricultural modernization. The twin policies are seen to catapult Philippines to agricultural modernization.
In a forum with the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI), Dar discussed the nature of NTMs. This will primarily include subsidies for ensuring Filipino farmers will be globally competitive and will have capability to export goods. NTMs will also support Filipino farmers in the form of stricter sanitary and phytosanitary rules for imported goods and other forms of support, such as farm to market roads, post harvest facilities, research fund, and skills development upgrading.
“If we need to subsidize, we must subsidize. That’s a policy direction. There are many ways, not only subsidy, that may be used under the WTO (to help farmers). New equations, when you promote these in a big way, (will benefit farmers). We will take this route so we can become productive and competitive,” Dar said at the Quezon City Sports Club meeting of PCAFI.
Dar’s declared policy toward NTM was a response to PCAFI’s position that the government has not supported the local farm sector with NTMs openly practiced by developed countries like the United States, Japan, and countries belonging to the European Union.
PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto said the US government approved a Farm Bill providing for $850 billion budget including subsidies for American farmers.
“That’s against our P70 billion budget that’s all there is for our farmers for this year,” said Fausto.
Lawyer Elias Jose Inciong of the United Broilers and Raisers Association said the National Economic Development Authority and other economic team members in the country have all along ignored the fact that foreign farmers are heavily subsidized.
The Doha Development Round of WTO that commenced in 2001 in fact broke down because developed countries refused to give in to removing subsidies, all other trade support, for their own farmers.
“What enables other farmers is subsidy. That’s why the Doha development round of WTO, the development aspect, has been abandoned. Its’ not there anymore. Yet, our policy making is very silent on the issue of subsidy. The economic team will rather blame the agriculture sector of not being competitive or of having protectionist mindset,” said Inciong.
“But obviously our farmers don’t have subsidy. Ever since we got into the WTO, we’re competing not only with foreign partners, foreign companies, but foreign governments who subsidize their sector,” said Inciong.
Dar also took a position that a Land Use Act (LUA) should be legislated, a major policy pushed by the private sector for many years as it protects use for agriculture, but a policy that faced opposition from some legislators.
“Our position is we don’t have a land use system. That’s the issue of land conversion on one side. But bright agricultural lands, much more those with irrigation system, must not be converted (for industrial or residential use,” Dar said.
PCAFI’s Fausto said the LUA will solicify the presence of investors in agriculture.
“Our investors will have stability with Land Use Act. They’re putting in millions and millions in investments. But at the end of the day, their land may be converted because we don’t have a proper land use law. Lands that are perfectly productive should remain producing food for our country,” said Fausto.
Dar said the LUA would have been ratified a long time ago. “The issue of land use is issue has been there for the last 30 years. We hope this time, it has to be legislated. There should be a comprehensive land use for every area. Even without the law yet, Local Government Units should now go forward and start land use planning,” said Dar.
The PCAFI forum with Dar was attended by close to 200 agriculture sector leaders in the private sector coming from 23 different farm subsectors.