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Economy

Duterte orders 'unimpeded' rice imports to tame Philippine inflation

Move to cut prices comes as Senate stalls on liberalization measure

A worker carries a sack of rice inside a government rice warehouse in Quezon city, Metro Manila   © Reuters

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the "unimpeded" importation of rice to the Philippines, as he seeks to tame the inflation that threatens the county's growth prospects.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Tuesday said Duterte made the order at a Cabinet meeting late Monday.

The House of Representatives has approved legislation to replace restrictions on rice imports with tariffs. The bill was submitted for approval to the Senate, where discussion has stalled due to divided opinions on the measure.

Duterte stepped in to the debate as he sees the lowering of rice prices as an urgent national issue.

"The decision to liberalize was the ultimate means to rein in inflation as far as food items are concerned," Roque said in a press briefing. "It's a free market now for rice."

Rice prices are high because the government this year deferred imports, believing the country's farmers would be able to meet the needs of Philippine households. Overall inflation accelerated in September for a ninth straight month, with prices rising at the fastest pace in nearly a decade on the back of soaring food and oil prices.

Rice is the Philippines' staple food, and the country's poorest households spend a fifth of their income on the grain. The average price of regular milled rice has risen more than 20% from 2017 levels.

Roque said Duterte does not need to issue an executive order for the liberalization to take effect. The spokesman also said that revenues from tariffs will be earmarked to boost the productivity of domestic rice farmers.

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