US to PHL: Clarify license scheme for agri imports

News date: 04 October 2021Source:

The United States has asked the Philippines to further explain its import licensing regime for agricultural products and provide more details about its fish import scheme in its latest letter to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Washington transmitted another official communication, dated September 23, to the WTO Committee on Import Licensing containing follow-up questions on the Philippines’s import licensing system.

It was the third letter submitted by the US to the multilateral trade body which detailed Washington’s concerns over the Philippines’s use of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPS-ICs) to “restrict” agricultural imports.

In its latest communication, the US raised 11 follow-up questions regarding the Philippines’s SPS-IC regime.

“The United States thanks the Philippines for its response to the United States’ questions regarding the Philippines’ Sanitary and Phytosanitary Import Clearance (SPS-IC) regime in G/LIC/Q/PHL/5. The United States requests the Philippines respond to the following follow-up questions and additional questions in writing,” the letter read.

As early as April, Washington raised concerns over Manila’s SPS-IC regime, saying the Philippines was using the system to “restrict” farm imports by not issuing SPS-ICs. The SPS-IC is a document that certifies that imported commodities do not pose threats to animal and human health.

“The United States is still concerned that SPS-IC permits are used for purposes other than ensuring that imported agricultural products meet the standards to protect human, animal, or plant life or health,” Washington said in its April communication.

Follow-up questions

The US asked the Philippines to comment on the statements made by Philippine officials “regarding the practices of the Philippine SPS-IC regime and influence on relevant Philippine Department of Agriculture [DA] bureaus.”

Washington cited in particular Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque’s announcement in May that the Philippines will not import rice during the harvest season and Agriculture Undersecretary Rodolfo V. Vicerra’s pronouncement last year that the DA needs to manage the timing of SPS-IC issuance so that imports will not coincide with domestic harvest.

The US also inquired from the Philippines if it would consider a single SPS-IC issuance for multiple shipments to make verification of compliance of shipments with SPS requirements more “administratively manageable.”

“This would apply in particular for imports from suppliers that have an established track record of providing product that is free from diseases and pests of concern and present no risks to human, animal, and plant life and health.”

The US also questioned the DA’s basis for “limiting validity periods” of SPS-IC for specific commodities as prescribed under its Administrative Order (AO) No. 9 Series of 2010.

Under the AO, imported commodities have varying “must ship out by” deadline—15 days for live milk fish and 60 days for meat products.

Meat, fish imports

Washington also raised new questions related to the DA’s decision to extend the effectivity of the SPS-IC for meat imports and the approval of a scheme for importing small pelagic fishes.

The US asked the Philippines about the “rationale” for the temporary extension of SPS-IC for meat import from 60 days to 90 days and the reason for “the suspension of SPSIC issuance for roundscad, bonito, mackerel, and moonfish under Special Order No. 705, Series of 2020.”

“What are the criteria for determining the amount of fish to be allowed imported and the timeframes for the amount of allowed fish to be imported?” the letter read.

“Please explain how restricting SPS-IC issuances ‘under the 2021 CNI [certificate of necessity to import] 60,000 MT before the closed fishing season and automatically expire on 31 December 2021 for importers is different from a quantitative restriction?”

Washington also raised questions about the “qualifications and/or requirements for importers of fish products to receive an SPS-IC?”

“Please cite relevant regulations that set out these qualifications,” the letter read.