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Philippines: Ratification of organic farm bill pushed

By Jhoanna Frances S. Valdez, BusinessWorld | GMA News

Congress will try to ratify by February a measure that gives incentives to farmers who engage in organic farming, as it schedules a bicameral conference that will reconcile the Senate and House versions of the bill when sessions resume on January 18.

The proposed Organic Agriculture Act of 2009, contained in both House Bill 7066 and Senate Bill 3264, gives certified farms a four-year income tax holiday and exempts them from duties on imported agricultural equipment.

The bill also exempts those that produce and use organic farming inputs from local taxes, and grants preferential lending rates and subsidies on organic certification fees.

The House of Representatives approved its version last Dec. 15, while the Senate did so last Dec. 3.

Palawan Rep. Abraham Kahlil B. Mitra, House agriculture committee chairman, said they would schedule a bicameral conference committee meeting immediately after sessions resume.

"Basically, there is very little difference between our version and the Senate’s. Our major provisions are almost identical and it is only the minor provisions that need reconciling. The bills could be reconciled before the end of February," he said in a phone interview on Monday.

Senator Rodolfo G. Biazon, principal author of the Senate version, said Congress could act on the bill, even as lawmakers prepare for elections, since it is not controversial.

"Admittedly, it can be difficult working on big and sensational measures during this period. We may still be able to pass some of the least controversial bills before the sessions end, and this measure may be one of those," he said.

Congress is on a month-long holiday break from December 19 to January 17.

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