Importation harms local farmers, defies ‘Malasakit promise’-Alvarez

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By: Cong. Pantaleon D. Alvarez 

To begin with, it is recognized (in the ideal world) that the logic of free markets, at first instance, makes sense. And this necessarily includes unimpeded importation under the assumption that markets are efficient, will force players to find their competitive advantage, and the invisible hand will – somehow – guide all towards a fair and mutually beneficial arrangement. 

In principle, at least, real world experience, however, has shown the flaws of unregulated markets and unabated importation, especially for developing countries like ours. 

Allowing free market forces to operate unregulated, or, with hardly any effective regulation, (supposedly) challenges local markets to remain competitive, reduces prices of products, and makes the same affordable. To an extent, it does, but in a very unfair and unjust way because foreign players enjoy substantial subsidies and incentives from their governments.  

In other words, the price at which they sell their products to our country is at a price lower than the real market value of that product. How can a poor country like the Philippines compete against that? 

We can’t.

And this is why we have to reevaluate importation policies being implemented right now, especially given the public health and economic crisis we find ourselves in. 

To give an example, consumer demand across the globe drastically dropped. Restaurants are closed. Hence, the countries with high production capacity when it comes to, let’s say, poultry, have surplus of perishable goods. These are then exported – in rush – to other countries, including the Philippines, at prices which our local farmers cannot match. What is the result? 

We are at the risk of seeing certain local agricultural sectors collapse due to continuous and unabated importation of food products. And this affects not just the local poultry industry, but also local hog raisers as well. 

To make matters worse, unimpeded importation of ingredients for feeds, such as feed wheat (a corn substitute), also negatively impacts our local corn farmers too. There will be a domino effect here, the full impact of which we have yet to fully understand. 

This is not to say that importation is outright bad. It’s not. But there’s a balancing act we need to accomplish here. Certainly, cheaper food products, at first glance, may appear good for consumers (in the short-run, at least). But we have to ask the harder question:  “At what cost?” And we mean: “the real cost”. 

If we do not review our importation policies, the already struggling local agriculture sectors – especially at this time – will take a hard (if not a fatal) hit. Local businesses will close down. And we will see unemployment further rise.  We then enter the realm of downward spiral from which recovery becomes an abstract idea rather than an achievable aim. 

Yes, it is reasonable to import products if local supply is limited. But with the drastic decrease in consumer demand, and with fast food chains like Jollibee closing hundreds of stores, we have to look into whether or not our local farmers can already match the local demand. If the answer is yes, then why allow continuous importation? 

When the present administration campaigned to win the people’s votes, one of its non-negotiables was the promise of “malasakit.” Nasaan ngayon ang malasakit para sa local farmers? 

We ask Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar to use “malasakit” as part of the standard to be used as we demand that his Department review and recalibrate the country’s importation policies using lens that goes beyond merely looking at short-term benefits for consumers. Let us look at the bigger picture and include, as part of the equation, the hidden costs of unabated importation. 

The aim here is to lay the foundation for realizing our long-term collective aspiration – as a people – to defeat hunger; achieve food security and food sovereignty; keep our agricultural industries alive, competitive, and innovative; let local businesses flourish; and allow our people to remain employed, working, and able to afford and provide food for their families and loved ones.

Be informed
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