Fair Trade Alliance hits rampant rice smuggling

THE multisectoral Fair Trade Alliance (FairTrade) yesterday scored the government inaction over reports of massive rice smuggling in various ports of the country, specifically the port of Cebu, indicating that influential personalities may be behind the illegal entry of imported rice into the country.

“Since three weeks ago, more than 1,200 container vans containing smuggled rice from Vietnam, China and Thailand, equivalent to close to 500,000 bags, have entered the port of Cebu alone,” said Steve Quiambao, co-convenor for agriculture of the FairTrade.  “We are also receiving reports that smuggled rice is also coming via the ports of Batangas and Manila,” he said.

“It seems that there is an open season for rice smuggling,” Quiambao said.  He said the brazenness of the smuggling incidents indicate that influential parties are involved.  According to him, rice smuggling is worse now compared to the time of deposed President Joseph Estrada.

Based on the calculation of FairTrade, the government is being robbed of revenues amounting to P175 billion a year due to smuggling.

Quiambao said at least five ships carrying about 1,200 container vans of smuggled rice docked at the Cebu port since August 14.  Despite complaints from farmers’ groups, he said no apprehensions have been made by the Bureau of Customs (BoC).

The ships have reportedly declared their cargo as construction materials, furniture and vegetables.

According to reports, the farmers’ groups have already complained to Finance Secretary Gary Teves, but no action has been taken by the BoC so far.

“The promotion of agriculture productivity through the so-called super regions of Northern Luzon and Mindanao is useless and meaningless if smuggling of agriculture products is not decisively curbed,” Quiambao said.

“Are the smugglers emboldened by reports that one of the designated super regions champions is allegedly a friend of a suspected rice smuggler?” Quiambao asked.  He did not elaborate. FairTrade is a national multisectoral coalition headed by former senator Wigberto Tañada.

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