NEDA supports ‘well-targeted’ RCEF as DA seeks extension

 NEDA supports ‘well-targeted’  RCEF as DA seeks extension

THE National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said it supports a Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) that is well-targeted, amid a campaign by the Department of Agriculture (DA) to extend the fund’s op-erating life.

“NEDA is looking at that issue. There are pros, there are cons (to extending). I would like to think that keeping the RCEF and targeting it well, using it well to improve the productivity on rice is not a bad idea,” NEDA Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan told reporters on the sidelines of a forum Monday.

“But at the same time, the President has also issued an Administrative Order reducing unnecessary barriers to imports especially when there are domestic shortages so that inflation will be averted, so things like that would need to be examined,” he said.

The Philippines has been beset by high rice prices and damage caused by El Niño, threatening the harvest and raising the prospect of supply constraints exerting upward pressure on prices.

The RCEF seeks to allocate funds from import tariffs to improve the competitiveness of the rice industry.

The fund is a component of the Rice Tariffication Law of 2019, which went into the books as Republic Act No. 11203. RCEF was originally set to operate for five years, receiving P10 billion worth of rice import tariffs each year to improve farm productivity. The tariff allocations are set to expire in June.

The DA has said it wants to extend RCEF’s life to further fund postharvest facilities, farm mechanization, and the distribution of fertilizer.

The DA is also preparing a proposal to increase the P10-billion annual allocation, Agriculture Secretary Francisco T. Laurel, Jr. said last week.

If the extension is approved, Mr. Balisacan said the government must ensure that the tariffs collected from rice imports be solely dedicated to improving productivity in the rice industry.

On the proposal to increase the P10-billion allocation, NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie G. Edillon said the performance of RCEF needs to be reviewed.

Senator Cynthia A. Villar has proposed to raise the RCEF allocation to P20 billion a year, with a six-year extension of operations.

Rice inflation hit 24.4% in March, the highest since the 24.6% posted in February 2009. Rice was a major contributor to the 3.7% uptick in March inflation. — Beatriz Marie D. Cruz