Local flour millers are raising their voices against imported Turkish flour, which they claim is being “dumped” in the country.
“Dumping” is a term used to refer to the practice of some traders of selling commodities (like flour) abroad at prices much lower than those obtaining in their own domestic markets. This effectively drives down the prices of competitors, some of them the country’s own producers, and, if the “dumping” is allowed to continue long enough, can even end up “killing” the domestic industry altogether.
This is what Philippine flour millers are saying is happening to them. Though for now imported Turkish flour takes up “only” 10 percent of the total market, the Philippine Association of Flour Millers (Pafmil) says the volume of Turkish flour in the local market has been growing at “alarming” rates. In 2011, Turkish flour arrivals were pegged at just over 3.5 million bags, but last year, these totaled 6.2 million bags, an increase of 75 percent.
Why this growing hunger for Turkish flour? Because it is cheaper than other imported flour and even local flour. In fact, “Pinoy Tasty” and “Pinoy Pandesal,” the cheapest types of bread produced by “small neighborhood bakers” in response to consumer concerns about rising bread prices, are made using the cheap Turkish product. In fact, bakeries associations have warned that high prices of bread are “inevitable” once higher tariffs are imposed on Turkish flour and local bakeries turn once again to more expensive local brands.
The latest news, though, is that bakers have agreed to postpone raising bread prices, even as they, the millers and the concerned government agencies, continue to study the issue of “dumping” of flour from Turkey.
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Flour millers recommend the imposition of a 20-percent tariff on the Turkish flour, an opinion the Department of Agriculture shares as it recommended the increased rates to the Tariff Commission.
Bakers, however, say that if forced to shift to higher-priced locally milled flour, they will have to jack up the prices of their products. The government, meanwhile, says it hopes bakers will stick to “reasonable” rates, especially given the increase in demand with the approaching Christmas season.
The Philippines is actually a “small” market for bread and pastry producers, says Pafmil executive director Ric Pinca. Although he knows his breads (Pinca studied baking in the United States), Pinca says bread consumption in the country is still low, given our devotion to (and obsession with) rice, something we share with the rest of Asia. But even within Asia, he says, Filipinos don’t present such a huge bread market, except perhaps for breakfast where the pan de sal is ever-present.
Told that consumers may prefer lower-priced bread made from Turkish flour than other bread made with higher-priced flour and thus more expensive, Pinca says the low prices for Turkish flour are just the beginning. “Once it dominates the market and has killed off local competitors, the prices of Turkish flour will shoot up,” he claims, citing the experience of other countries.
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Whenever he gets together with his counterparts in other countries, says Philippine Unicef Representative Tomoo Hozumi, he inevitably receives profuse praise from them for the Philippine “regulatory environment” regarding breastfeeding practices. “The country has some of the best, most comprehensive laws and regulations regarding the promotion of breastfeeding and the regulation of breast milk substitutes,” he says.
The problem, he says, is that like most of our “beautiful” laws, the law is hardly known or acknowledged and barely implemented. “We need to give it top priority,” acknowledges Daphne Oseña Paez, a TV host and “lifestyle icon” who for many years has been a Special Advocate for Children with Unicef.
There are many reasons breastfeeding practices and childhood malnutrition continue to dismay authorities, say Hozumi and Paez. One is that “breastfeeding, or the lack of it, is not the only reason Filipino children are falling sick and dying.”
True, breastfeeding rates continue to fall in the country, and while mothers of newborns say they start off with breastfeeding, few continue until the recommended minimum period of six months, with some discontinuing the practice after less than a month.
Another factor, says Hozumi, is that workplaces are not all that “baby-friendly,” with many failing to meet even the minimum requirement of a separate nursing room and a refrigerator where expressed milk can be stored.
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Then there is the poor health status of many mothers, which makes it difficult for them to continue to breastfeed when they themselves are ill or malnourished.
Malnutrition figures in the Philippines have barely moved in the last decade, adds Hozumi. “One in five” Filipino children was found to be underweight and “stunted” in the period between 2003 and 2008. The same findings still hold true this year.
“Nutrition is not just a matter of food input,” stresses Hozumi. Factors like sanitation and access to clean water can affect a child’s health, he points out, and illnesses can affect not just a child’s health status but even performance in school, and inevitably, the child’s future.
A mother to three daughters, Daphne says her work representing Unicef and visiting communities where the agency has projects opens her eyes to the status of women and children around the country. “As a mother, it gives me great joy to be able to work so that all children everywhere can get the best start in life,” she concludes.