Manila. The Philippines is facing no urgency to import rice despite a fall in stocks at the state grains agency to the lowest level in over two decades, an official at a government panel that decides on imports said on Wednesday (07/02).
The state grains procurement agency, the National Food Authority (NFA), said last month it hoped to import 250,000 tons of rice as soon as possible to replenish thinning stockpiles at one of the world's top rice buyers.
However, its plan has to be approved by the NFA Council, made up of government economic managers.
"Right now, while their stocks may be low, the Council feels the need to import is not that urgent. There is so much supply available in the market and prices have been more or less stable," Mercedita Sombilla, who sits at the NFA Council, told reporters in a text message.
The NFA was given a standby authority as early as December by the council to import 250,000 tons of rice.
"We need to import because NFA stocks are depleting," NFA spokeswoman Rebecca Olarte told Reuters.
Currently, the agency whose inventory is used mostly to stabilize domestic prices, only has about 60,000 tons of rice in stock, enough for two days of national consumption.
That is well below the required 15-day inventory and the lowest since July 1995 when NFA's stock dropped to one day's worth of consumption, said Olarte.
The NFA was told by the panel that private traders hold sufficient rice supplies and farmers are anticipating a bumper crop, Olarte said.
The Philippines produced a record 19.4 million tons of rice last year, and the agriculture department estimates that the national buffer inventory would stand at 3 million tons by end-March, good for 96 days consumption, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said in a Facebook post late on Tuesday.
But with little or no NFA rice being sold locally, domestic rice prices have risen as private traders have pushed prices higher, Olarte said.
Annual Philippine inflation climbed to 4 percent in January, the highest in over three years, partly due to higher food prices, including rice.
The Philippines typically buys rice from major exporters Vietnam and Thailand. Its only rice purchase last year was 250,000 tons sourced from suppliers in Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore, via a tender in July.
"The NFA needs to bring in the imported rice because private rice traders have inconsiderately priced commercial rice at a level which hurts ordinary consumers," Piñol said.