ENDLESS SMUGGLING THREATENS VEGETABLE INDUSTRY, FARMERS
The reported entry of temperate vegetables from China, which poses serious threats to the industry of vegetable-producing provinces in Northern Luzon especially Benguet, should not be taken lightly by the national government.
News about the entry of smuggled vegetables that flooded the local markets came at a time when thousands of farmers and their families are still reeling from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Farmers in Benguet recently sounded the alarm over the entry of vegetables from China, particularly carrots and cabbages, either without or with tampered permits.
The prompt action of concerned government agencies, led by the Department of Agriculture, by forming a task force to determine the extent of unauthorized importation of vegetables is laudable, but efforts must not stop after determining how the commodities have penetrated the local markets.
We cannot fathom how imported vegetables have found their way into the local market, especially under the backdrop of a struggling economy. For one, those involved in the illegal entry of imported commodities cannot just carry on their actions if, from the beginning, they know they will not succeed.
Agricultural smuggling, or smuggling in general, has been pervasive in the country and at a time when the government needs to maximize its revenue collection to rebuild the economy, this illegal undertaking should be one of the things on which it should focus its attention.
The DA and other concerned agencies like the Bureau of Customs can investigate the illegal entry of carrots and cabbages from China, but after the investigation, we are not sure those responsible will be brought to justice.
Conducting an investigation is a reactive response, although we do not discount the fact it can help deter intentions of moving in agricultural commodities to the country and compete with the locally-produced ones.
This is why we share the sentiment that aside from conducting investigations whenever there is uproar from local farmers about illegal importation, concerned government agencies should conduct regular random inspection on storage facilities of the country’s big importers of vegetables and file charge against those who engage in smuggling.
The recent operation by BOC agents on smuggled vegetables is likewise laudable, but such action only came when the concerns of highland farmers reached national attention. This means that smuggled vegetables have been flooding the local markets even before the farmers raised the issue to the concerned agencies.
For one, vegetable smuggling does not only deprive local producers of their source of livelihood but also deprives the government of revenues due to uncollected taxes and customs duties.
Left unchecked and unaddressed as it is already, smuggling will eventually kill an industry that sustains millions of families in an agricultural country.
Aside from its adverse impacts on the economy, vegetable smuggling also threatens consumers’ health.
Illegally imported vegetables do not comply with sanitary and phytosanitary requirements, a process that ensures agricultural commodities are free of pests and diseases before they are allowed entry to the country.
In 2007, Benguet farmers have been at the forefront of the battle against the importation of vegetables that are also grown locally.
Local leaders at the time did not waver in making representations to government agencies involved in the issuance of importation permits, among other things.
This is why the seeming indifference of current politicians to the current plight of their constituents is baffling.
Aside from Benguet caretaker Eric Yap who was reported to file a resolution calling for a probe on entry of smuggled vegetables, we have yet to hear pronouncements from other elected leaders from the other provinces such as Mountain Province and Ifugao that produce semi-temperate vegetables sold to various markets in the country.
We hope they have not forgotten their obligation to protect one of north Luzon’s major industries.