Rice prices about to become a major political issue

There is a political battle looming over rice. The Laura Chinchilla administration decreed in May that the government would end price controls on the food staple next March 1, at the start of the 2014 harvest.

The decision comes from Mayi Antillón Guerrero, the economics minister who has shown a strong free market tendency during her tenure.

Naturally rice growers and their Corporación Arrocera Nacional are not happy with the removal of price controls because Costa Rican rice has been more expensive than foreign imports.

The original decree noted that the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio sought help from the Instituto de Investigaciones en Ciencias Económicas at the Universidad de Costa Rica. The institute report said that consumers have paid higher prices due to the government support and that there is no economic or social argument to justify the current system.

In addition, the report said, the price control has not resulted in an increase in productivity by rice farmers because the level of cultivation has declined over the last 20 years.

Representatives of the Corporación Arrocera were at the legislature Tuesday seeking a reversal of the decree. They were before the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Agropecuarios. Minor Cruz, representing rice growers said that the removal of the price controls would jeopardize the basic food supply of Costa Ricans.

Fernando Apuy, the lawyers for the rice growing organization said that the action by the executive branch was not constitutional and that there soon would be a case brought before the appropriate court.

Johnny Araya, the presidential candidate for the Partido Liberación Nacional, said he would discuss the decree with the current government when he appeared before rice growers. He also said that Ms. Antillón,  Gloria Abrahams, minister of Agricultura y Gandería, and Anabel González, the minister of Comercio Exterior, would have no role in his government.

Rice growers were strong opponents of the free trade treaty with the United States because that country has extensive production of the grain. Even now they battle against imports. Ms. González was a chief architect of the treaty for Costa Rica.

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