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Philippines now world’s top rice importer - USDA

MANILA, Philippines, September 16 ------ The Philippines has overtaken China as the world’s top importer of rice, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In its latest “Grain: World Markets and Trade” report, the USDA projected that Philippine rice importation will reach 3.8 million metric tons in marketing year 2023-2024 while China’s imports will drop to 3.5 million MT.

Farmers’ group Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) agreed with the USDA’s forecast. “I can see the need for a large volume of imports next year, probably in the range of the USDA forecast, because domestic supply is not catching up with demand. More imports are needed next year to offset the decline in imports in the third quarter of this year,” FFF national manager Raul Montemayor said when sought for comment.

In the same report, the USDA said the Philippines is holding off its rice importation this year due to skyrocketing rice prices resulting from India and Vietnam’s rice export ban. “In 2008, the Philippines continuously bought larger volumes as prices escalated; this year, it is delaying purchases, awaiting lower prices. In the past week, prices started to decline from their peaks,” the USDA said. Global rice prices have reached their highest in 15 years after the latest export ban policy of India, the report noted.

India, which supplies around 40 percent of the global rice trade, banned the export of non-basmati white rice in July, leading to higher global prices and tighter global supply. “Top rice exporter India has sent shockwaves through the global rice market since its July export ban on milled white rice and subsequent August export tax on parboiled rice and minimum export price for basmati. Global importers have shifted to the next largest suppliers, Thailand and Vietnam, sending their export quotes surging to the highest levels since 2008,” the USDA added.

Thailand and Vietnam are the top two sources of imported rice in the Philippines in 2023. Based on the Bureau of Plant Industry’s Sept. 7 data, rice imports have already reached 2.33 million MT, with 4.46 percent sourced from Thailand and 89.85 percent from Vietnam.

No to Balisacan at DA

Farmers’ groups opposed the possible appointment of Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan as chief of the Department of Agriculture. Balisacan has doused speculation that he is being tapped to replace President Marcos as DA secretary. “He has long been an advocate of unlimited imports, tariff cuts, easing of subsidies that will lead to the demise of the Filipino farmers. He has never sided with local producers, case in point, he is one of the proponents of the reduction of rice tariff,” Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura executive director Jayson Cainglet told The STAR.

Marcos should appoint a pro-farmer, not “market-oriented and pro-liberalization like Balisacan,” Montemayor said. “Balisacan thinks like (Finance) Secretary Benjamin Diokno. They always resort to importation,” he noted.

Reduce tariffs

The Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) supports the proposal to temporarily reduce tariffs on rice imports. On Sept. 7, the Foundation for Economic Freedom filed a petition to temporarily reduce imported rice tariffs from 35 percent to between zero and 10 percent. This proposal was endorsed by the Department of Finance and the National Economic and Development Authority. “We believe that the temporary lowering of tariff, coupled with other calibrated measures to be taken by this administration’s economic team, will result in the long-term stabilization of the prices of rice and improve the inflation situation,” FFCCCII president Cecilio Pedro said in a statement.

Earlier this week, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) also expressed support for the removal of import duties for rice. “Since we’re short of rice, when we import, we hope there won’t be tax so you lower down the cost of rice,” said PCCI president George Barcelon.



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