Lower agri tariffs a lazy and counterproductive response to El Niño — IBON

December 27, 2023

by IBON Foundation

Importing food really is the only solution when domestic supplies finally falter such as from bad drought due to El Niño. However, importation should only be a last resort especially for our staple foods.

The Marcos Jr administration recently decided to keep tariffs low on rice, corn and meat products until the end of next year, through Executive Order (EO) No. 50. This is supposedly to ensure food supply at affordable prices next year when El Niño hits.

This is counterproductive though because the over-reliance on cheap imports even before El Niño occurs disincentivizes domestic producers and undermines domestic agricultural production, especially in the absence of substantial support for local agriculture.

This further erodes food self-sufficiency and security — and bizarrely actually creates the justification for lower tariffs and more food imports in the future, especially if El Niño cuts farm output.

The Marcos Jr administration needs to curtail its obsession with liberalization and instead do more to improve domestic agricultural productivity. This includes improving the country’s resiliency to El Niño which is a long-standing phenomenon that shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.

Unfortunately, the same old free market framework of consecutive governments and their economic managers, including the current one, distorts food security to include lazy over-reliance on imports while avoiding the importance of food self-sufficiency.

As it is, the country’s rice self-sufficiency ratio fell from 81.5% to 77% so import dependency correspondingly increased from 18.5% to 23% from 2021 to 2022. This bodes ill for Filipinos’ food security as El Niño which has already hit most of the Asia region is expected to continue in 2024 and could lead to decreased staple food production like rice, curbed exports and higher prices. This will hit the 50.9 million moderately and severely food insecure Filipinos the worst.

Free-market dogma and that erroneous notion of food security underpins chronic underinvestment in improving domestic agriculture such as in more efficient irrigation, drought-resistant crops, and sustainable farming techniques to deal with El Niño episodes.

The overly free market-oriented and liberalization approach to developing domestic agriculture is very outdated and needs to be fixed.