Increased pork imports: To feed the country or to rake in profits?
This is in response to Cielito Habito’s column “Who’s afraid of imported pork?” (5/4/21)
First off, former Neda secretary Habito should drop the pretense and stop using Filipino consumers as an excuse. If they are actually concerned for “100 million pork-eating Filipinos” suffering hunger, his neoliberal ilk should have long pushed for more “ayuda” and heavier government support for domestic food production. Besides, the millions of Filipino hog raisers, corn and coconut farmers, agricultural workers, butchers, transporters, retailers, and their dependents are themselves pork consumers—the two are not in opposition. Habito should be honest and consistent; their real concern in taming inflation rates is to protect the country’s foreign credit ratings.
Secondly, the presentation of arguments supposedly in support of increased pork imports actually exposes their fundamental flaws. High global pork prices due to an ongoing African swine fever-induced global supply slump, and the investments necessary to absorb increased imports due to current limits in domestic cold chain facilities (as with the Department of Agriculture spending P45 million for 2,500 freezers)—these factors, if presumed true, translate to added costs. How then can increasing imports now make pork affordable? It is obvious that increasing minimum access volume or MAV and lowering tariffs are made solely to allow importers to cut costs from taxes and continue to profit. Besides, as many have pointed out, importers never withhold windfall profits to significantly lower retail prices.
Indeed, what has agricultural trade liberalization done for Filipino food self-sufficiency? After allowing unlimited rice imports through the rice tariffication law, the country saw its rice self-sufficiency drop to 79.8 percent in 2019, the lowest since 1998. Rice inflation may have somewhat stabilized since 2017, but it has never dropped to the promised P27 per kilo, remaining unaffordable to many as wages and income remain stagnant. Worse, this early trend in rice self-sufficiency mirrors the tragic fate of Filipino garlic.
The Philippines was 100-percent self-sufficient in garlic in 1994. However, after joining the World Trade Organization in 1995 and the enactment of Republic Act Nos. 1296 and 8178 allowing the entry of unlimited garlic imports, garlic self-sufficiency dropped incessantly. By 2019, garlic self-sufficiency was at a measly 7.9 percent, making the country almost absolutely import-dependent. It’s as if Filipino garlic had completely disappeared in the span of 24 years. Several Filipino crops, such as coffee, monggo, and onion, among others, had the same trajectory.
With the massive losses incurred by Filipino hog raisers due to the mishandling of ASF, and of rice farmers due to the rice liberalization law, and the broader economic impacts of the militarist response to COVID-19—today is a very crucial time. The government’s agricultural policies now will have deep and lasting effects. Do we want to be dependent on imported pork? On imported rice?
As such, for several months now, numerous national farmer organizations, vendor associations, and consumer groups have opposed the move to increase pork imports. The public pressure has already compelled economic managers to tame their original proposals.
It is only proper to ask, then: Who exactly craves imported pork? The list is unsurprisingly short: foreign businesses, local importers and processors, and neoliberal bureaucrats.
The National Pork Producers Council, “the global voice for the US pork industry,” has already applauded the move, allowing it to “[secure] better access to the Philippines market, [a] top, long-term trade priority.” Contradicting Habito’s claims, the US Meat Export Federation has also proclaimed that there is sufficient global supply, pointing out that US pork exports to the Philippines have already increased 600 percent last year. Spanish and Canadian pork exporters are likewise closely monitoring the issue. The Meat Importers and Traders Association and the Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. celebrated the proposals and hurriedly booked pork imports of up to 600,000 metric tons. This amount, equivalent to more than a year of total imports, is set to enter the country for just three months from April.
Lastly, no one else has pushed the move but the likes of Habito, bureaucrats who have long wielded powers to transform the Philippine economy for the benefit of Filipinos, have only succeeded in worsening the situation due to their blind adherence to failed neoliberal dogma. Clearly, this is not about feeding Filipinos, this is about raking in profits amid Filipino hunger and bankruptcy.
RAFAEL V. MARIANO
Former Agrarian Reform Secretary
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas
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