AGRICULTURE Secretary Manny Piñol on Saturday argued that farmers need not worry about the government’s plans to liberalize rice importation as this was unlikely to put an end to local rice production.

“Pero iyong takot ng ating magsasaka na babahain tayo ng imported na bigas, actually pinapaliwanag kong maski gaano pa karami ang… maski gaano pa kasidhi ang kagustuhan ng mga importers na maparami ang pagpapasok ng imported na bigas, limitado din ang world supply ng bigas at kapag tumaas iyong ating importation siyempre tataas iyong presyo sa World Market. Kuwan iyan eh, trade and commodity iyan,” said Piñol in a radio interview with Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar.

The Agriculture Secretary further pointed out that there were only three million metric tons of rice  globally accessible for importation because of a rice shortage.

“Now, so beyond that, kapag um-order ka ng ganiyan ay talagang tataas na iyong presyo sa world market, at makaka-compete na iyong ating mga magsasaka,” he argued further.

Piñol noted that the Philippines’ reliance on Vietnam, Thailand and other rice exporting countries would not last “forever” given that these countries had growing populations.

He projected that Thailand’s rice exports of about 7.3 million metric tons per year would decrease in five to 10 years due to local Thai demand.

“So ang sinasabi natin is hindi puwedeng sabihin natin sa mga magsasaka na bitawan ninyo na rin, mag-diversify kayo because the moment we do that para nating sinintensiyahan ng kamatayan iyong ating mga susunod na henerasyon. We cannot let go of the rice industry because we could not catch up with the growing population and we have to continue planting rice to feed our people and the next generation,” Piñol said.

President Rodrigo Duterte on February signed into law a measure removing the quantitative restrictions on rice and imposing a 35-percent tariff on imports from the country’s neighbors in Southeast Asia.

The measure allows unlimited importation of rice as long as private sector traders secured a phytosanitary permit from the Bureau of Plant Industry and pay the 35-percent tariff for shipments from neighbors in Southeast Asia.

A team from concerned government agencies, led by the National Economic and Development Authority, was in the process of crafting the implementing rules and regulations for the Rice Tariffication Act (R.A. 11203) ahead of the law’s implementation on March 5.  (GMA News)