Salceda firm on ‘zero tariff’
By Mar S. Arguelles LEGAZPI CITY --- Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said on Saturday he stood firm in pushing for a “zero tariff” on imported food commodities as an anti-inflation measure. The Albay lawmaker and known economist was reacting to the rejection of the proposal to reduce to zero the tariff on some imported agriculture by President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic managers for reason that the plan would adversely affect local producers. Salceda in an interview said he remains unfazed and unconvinced by that palace announcement. As long as inflation continued to rise he anticipates that the economic team opposed to the proposal would reconsider and reduce food tariff to 5 percent. “They will reduce food tariff to 5 percent. In effect, it matters little if we reduce it from 40 percent to 5 percent versus from 40 percent to 0 percent, for as long it increases supply and reduces the cost of importation,” Salceda said. Salceda said the July inflation of 5.7 percent was driven by a 7.1 percent increases in food. “Since food is bigger in the consumption basket of the poor, it is safe to say that the inflation of the poor in July increased to a worrisome 7.4 percent,” the Albay solon said. He believes that inflation is second only to social justice as the biggest creator of the poor sector. The July inflation according to Salceda would produce more poor and hungry people citing statistics that show protein-energy malnutrition rate at 54 percent would only aggravate the stunting rates of the huge swathe of rural population now at 47 percent. “We don’t have many options and we don’t have time, what we need are lower prices and more supply in the market,” he stressed, On the issue whether Duterte can issue an executive order imposing zero tariffs on imported fish, corn and vegetables and feed wheat to stop the momentum, Salceda clarified that under RA 10863 the President can modify tariffs via EOs when Congress is not in session. Congress would go on recess from August 17 to 27 this year. Among the economic measures being proposed to stamp out inflationary expectations and to bring immediate price relief and make supply accessible include: Zero tariffs on basic food items; rice importation of 500,000 to 800,000 metric tons; defer implementation or approval of regulated price adjustments of electricity and water; and for Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to take policy action to control inflationary expectations.