Thursday, April 03, 2008

"Rice crisis": government is doing everything except the right thing

Oh this rice crisis! It seems to me that the government is doing everything except the right thing: threatening economic saboteurs and hoarders, raising palay price buying subsidy, and more funds for the DA, I suppose. These are fine, except that they are not going to address the supposed “rice shortages.”

Rice shortages certainly has speculative element into it, especially in such a time when global food prices are rising. And speculations are necessarily rife in a policy environment where government restricts the global trade in such a political commodity either through quantitative restrictions or very high tariffs—which we do. Maintaining such protection system for rice makes us vulnerable to speculators who are inclined to hoard when buffer stocks are low or going down, and they will pounce on every opportunity, knowing that the government or bureaucracy would always act (say import) when its too late. That’s what is happening right now. For all we know, those guys from the NFA might even be collaborating with those hoarders to make a fast buck out of the situation. I’m speculating here, but that’s highly possible given the culture of corruption in the bureaucracy.

Solution: Why not open up the Philippines to global trade in rice? Why not reform the NFA? That’s the only way one could prevent hoarders from hoarding knowing that imports would always come at the right time when someone starts the nasty business of hoarding rice. An open trading regime should effectively deal with the speculative element that distorts prices.

You might say freer trade in rice might cause the collapse of the entire Philippine rice industry. That’s crap. The fact is that even right now, even under the current policy environment, lots of rice farmers especially in Mindanao are shifting to the more profitable crop like bananas and other high-value crops. Smart farmers, shall I say! There’s no sense planting something that won’t make you real money.

Under a freer rice trade environment, lots of farmers are going to adopt shift to high value crops. That’s good for them. But many are also going to stay in rice business but are going to innovate to lower their cost. Some might just focus on planting those fancy varieties that command high prices in the local market.

More on this next blog post.

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