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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Rice Smugglers Circumvent BOC Seize Orders with Court Orders

Farmers carry the newly threshed Palay at a farm in Brgy. Ambugat, Burgos, Ilocos Sur. BoC said court injunction orders have been used by importers to ship rice in the country even without an importation permit. Rice smugglers are able to bring in their rice imports without permits and despite seize orders from Bureau of Customs by seeking injunction orders from local courts. This is one of the loopholes that Customs Commissioner Sevilla said hampers their efforts to stop rice smuggling in the country. In his testimony during the televised Senate Inquiry on rice smuggling on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, Sevilla said importation of rice without proper permit is considered smuggling. With this, Customs seizes and holds the shipments under their jurisdiction in accordance with the quantitative restrictions under the WTO- General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The WTO allows it's member-countries like the Philippines to restrict the importation of sensitive agricultural products like rice to prevent the surge of cheap imported rice in the local market. But Sevilla said rice traders exploit the fact that the quantitative restrictions of the WTO to the Philippines has expired in 2012. The Philippines has requested for an extension but rice traders assert that without the WTO's quantitative restrictions, the Philippines lost its right to impose such limits on rice shipments. Sevilla said several regional trial courts have issued orders that stopped BoC and other government agencies like the National Food Authority (NFA) from holding rice shipments of companies without importation permits. He specifically cited the injunction orders issued in the provinces of Davao, Manila and Batangas that overturned their seize and hold orders. Given this conflict between international and domestic laws, illegal importation of rice continues in the country which severely affects local farmers, he said. Dept. of Justice has acknowledged the conflict between the WTO and local laws as far as importation of agricultural products. Justice Sec. De Lima who was also present at the hearing sponsored by the Committee on Agriculture, said the issue has been undergoing negotiation as her department continues to study the matter.          
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