Gov’t plan to sell imported fish at P88/kg seen unlikely

THE GOVERNMENT is unlikely to realize its plan to sell imported fish for P88 per kilogram (/kg) wholesale because of tight supply in the region and high freight costs, fisheries industry experts said.

Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jr., Frabelle Group president, said in a virtual briefing Monday that the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) plan to import 60,000 metric tons (MT) of fish has come too late because fishing season in other countries has ended or is running down.  

According to Mr. Laurel, China’s fishing season runs from June to September, while Vietnam’s is from March to June.

Administrative Order No. 22, issued by the DA on Aug. 27, requires that importers “sell the imported fish at P88/kg wholesale, based on the 2020 certificate of necessity to import (CNI) fish auction conducted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), or lower as a result of the cost unbundling for imported small pelagic fishes.”

The DA recently authorized the issue of a CNI, valid from Sept. 2 to December, covering 60,000 MT of fish to address supply issues in the domestic market during the closed season in many major fishing grounds.  

Mr. Laurel estimated a minimum landed cost for imported fish of P100 per kilogram.

“It is possible to price it at P88/kg but that would be difficult and highly unlikely. Especially with the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, freight costs are high,” Mr. Laurel said.

“The imports will be expensive since these will be shipped after the fishing season, which means that the products have already been bought by others,” he added.

Norberto O. Chingcuanco, co-convenor of food security advocacy Tugon Kabuhayan, questioned the need to import with the pandemic depressing demand.

“What is the urgency to import something that would be more expensive and is already frozen? Imagine the health hazard when you deliver frozen fish to public markets in remote areas which do not have freezers,” Mr. Chingcuanco said.

“Why focus on imports when we are an archipelago that can produce fish beyond our needs. We are an exporter of fish such as milkfish (bangus) and tuna,” he added.

Meanwhile, Foundation for Economic Freedom President Calixto V. Chikiamco said in a mobile phone interview that the government should abolish quantitative restrictions for fish imports and allow full import liberalization by the private sector with tariffication.

“We should allow import liberalization for all fish, except for fish species such as bangus and tilapia since we have enough supply through aquaculture,” Mr. Chikiamco said.  

“It is correct to augment the supply of fish to prevent fish prices from rising any further and affecting consumers. In fact, the 60,000 MT may not be enough, considering that we are heading into the Christmas season when food demand rises,” he added.

The DA has said that the CNI authorizes imports of small pelagic fish such as round scad (galunggong), mackerel, and bonito, for sale in public wet markets.

The closed fishing season is implemented annually in the Davao Gulf (June 1 to Aug. 31), Visayan Sea (Nov. 15 to Feb. 15), Sulu Sea (Dec. 1 to March 1), and Northeast Palawan (November to January).

The National Economic and Development Authority has recommended a fish import cap of 200,000 MT for the fourth quarter of 2021 and first quarter of 2022. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

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