MANILA, September 23, 2003 (STAR) You donít need billion-dollar farm subsidies in rich countries to bring down Philippine agriculture. All you need in this country are smugglers, whose imported goods from vegetables to rice and sugar can kill local producers faster than you can say WTO.

Every administration, it seems, has its favored importers, or at least people who invoke the names of those in power to smuggle in cheap goods. Naturally consumers arenít complaining; the imported items are cheap and the quality sometimes even better than local products. Consumers like getting value for their money.

On the other hand, the nation canít afford to sustain smuggling too long, especially when it affects a sector like agriculture that is so crucial to economic growth. Any administration that genuinely aims to lift the nation out of poverty has to focus on agricultural growth. But this isnít going to happen when local farmers have to compete with a flood of cheap imports. Stagnation in the countryside will eventually hit the consumers who are enjoying all those cheap imported farm products brought in illegally.

This is why the government must quickly address the complaints of 450 farmersí cooperatives, who denounced over the weekend a group of rice merchants who are reportedly set to flood the nation with cheap rice imported using recycled import permits. The permits were supposed to have expired at the end of August. The farmers, however, complained that the merchants managed to recycle the permits apparently with the connivance of personnel at the National Food Authority and the Bureau of Customs.

Local farmers are still waging a war against agricultural subsidies in rich countries. That war, fought at the World Trade Organization, is bound to get ugly before local farmers see positive results. The battle against smuggling in this country could be easier to win Ė if there is political will to go after the smugglers and their coddlers in government.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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