THE Philippines will start conducting a mandatory 100-percent inspection of all imported agricultural goods at the “second border” to curb smuggling in the aftermath of the influx of illegal Chinese carrots in the market.
The government has established a “second border” wherein the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) will undertake the mandatory inspection of imported goods, authorities said.
The two government agencies have also created a technical working group (TWG) to review the country’s 15-year-old guidelines and procedures on handling imported food items, according to a DA statement.
The two agencies, the DA statement explained, will implement “intensified and stricter second border inspection and control procedures” to ensure that imported farm products are “monitored for food safety.”
Under the new inspection system, imported farm goods will first undergo an “open-close” examination at the port of entry or “border,” and then the shipment will be subjected to a 100-percent inspection once it arrives at its designated warehouses, which the DA calls “second border.”
“Our goal is to curb the entry of smuggled agri-fishery products, while ensuring consumer safety in accordance with the provisions of Republic Act [RA] No. 10611 or the ‘Food Safety Act of 2013’ and other applicable laws,” Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said.
“This measure will only be temporary pending the completion of the first border facilities that will be constructed by the DA at major ports, starting in Subic, called as Commodity Examination Facility for Agriculture [CEFA],” he added.
Sinag: No such thing
The law invoked by the agriculture chief was absent in mentioning anything regarding “second border” control, an agriculture group pointed out, noting that the measure could still be taken advantage of by unscrupulous traders and importers.
“In the parlance of international trade and global markets, there is no such thing as “2nd border” because it is a gateway to smuggling and unsafe food and tainted agricultural products,” Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) said in a statement on Sunday.
“This is just like letting go of a thief in his NMAX motorcycle, and then chasing him with your bicycle,” the group added. The group also wrote to Sen. Cynthia A. Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, to investigate the DA for the delay in the construction of the country’s first border inspection facilities.
“What has happened to the promised ‘first border inspection facilities’ that has already been given funds way back in December 2019?” read the letter, a copy of which was released to the media on Sunday.
“Without first-border inspection, there is no way for the government to curb smuggling and makes the country more vulnerable to health pandemics, including Covid-19,” it added.
RA 10611 stipulated that all imported food must undergo cargo inspection and clearance procedures by the DA and the Department of Health (DOH) at the first port of entry prior to tariff assessment by the BOC.
“The DA and the DOH shall develop the regulations on cargo/shipment inspections and clearance procedures for imported products prior to assessment of the BOC for the appropriate tariffs,” the law read.
“Inspections and clearance procedures shall be consistent with Article IV of the Act, the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Agreement and Codex,” it added.
The new TWG created by the DA and BOC will review and strengthen guidelines and protocols regarding anti-smuggling efforts under Customs Memorandum order 04, Series of 2007.
The TWG is tasked to “establish sanitary and phytosanitary measures, food safety standards, and other regulatory measures in conducting first/second border inspection and control procedures.”
The DA said the BOC has also committed to provide its concerned agencies with the inward foreign manifest and bill of lading of all agri-fishery shipments “to enable them to identify shipments requiring food safety inspection.”
The Food Safety Act’s rule 12a.3 stipulates that this should have been the practice since the law was promulgated. “The BOC and the Association of International Shipping Lines [AISL] shall provide the DA and the DOH documents such as the Inward Foreign Manifest of Arriving Vessels to enable the DA and the DOH to identify shipments requiring food safety inspection,” the law read.