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Philippines' finance minister optimistic rice tariff cut will get presidential approval

FILE PHOTO: Farmers plant rice seedlings that are part of a breeding program for late-maturing varieties, at the International Rice Research Institute, in Los Banos, Laguna province, Philippines, January 18, 2023. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Farmers plant rice seedlings that are part of a breeding program for late-maturing varieties, at the International Rice Research Institute, in Los Banos, Laguna province, Philippines, January 18, 2023. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David/File Photo

DUBAI : The Philippines' finance minister on Tuesday expressed optimism that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr will approve a proposal to cut tariffs on imported rice, and that the measure could be implemented as soon as next month.

The finance and economic planning departments are proposing a tariff reduction to between zero and 10per cent, from the current 35per cent level, for rice imports as the government seeks to ease pressure on inflation. The country is one of the world's biggest buyers of the grain.

Retail prices of rice further climbed in August, pushing up Philippine inflation, which accelerated for the first time in seven months to 5.3per cent year-on-year.

Asked if he thinks the tariff cut proposal will be approved, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno said: "I think so."

Diokno was speaking to Reuters in an interview in Dubai, where he together with other Philippine economic officials held a briefing on the country's economic growth prospects.

The briefing, organised by a group of local and global banks including HSBC, was part of the Philippine delegation's broader aim to gauge investor interest from the United Arab Emirates in infrastructure and other opportunities in the Southeast Asian nation.

According to Diokno, Marcos can cut tariffs only when Congress, which is scheduled to adjourn by the end of this month, is not in session.

"I think in a week or two Congress will be out of session so that will be the perfect time (to cut tariffs)," he said.

Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, during the briefing, said inflation was the government's "most immediate concern", and efforts were being undertaken to bring it down.

The Philippine economy grew 4.3per cent in the second quarter from a year earlier, its slowest expansion pace in nearly 12 years, as high inflation and interest rates hurt consumer demand. That brought first-half growth to 5.3per cent, below the government's 6.0per cent-7.0per cent target for the year.

Balisacan, however, said the government remained confident of hitting "at least the lower point of that range".

(Reporting by Rachna Uppal and Hadeel Al Sayegh; writing by Enrico Dela Cruz; editing by Susan Fenton)

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