By Madelaine Miraflor
The Philippines, the world’s top rice importer, has decided to proceed with the government-togovernment (G2G) importation of 300,000 metric tons (MT) of rice weeks after the Department of Agriculture (DA) assured that even without this particular rice importation, the country will still end up with a surplus by year-end.
This prompted Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) National Manager Raul Montemayor to raise concerns over a possibility of a rice shortage,
which is in contrast with the rosy picture that the DA has been painting over the past weeks regarding the country’s rice supply.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a statement on Monday that the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC) has already started the process for the G2G importation to augment the country’s rice stocks during the lean months.
Lean season for rice runs from July to September when there’s usually low harvest.
“The PITC has already sent communications to Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, India and Cambodia,” Dar said.
Under a liberalized regime, the Philippine government could no longer import rice directly from other countries. The G2G importation is an emergency measure allowed under the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) to make sure that the country will have enough rice during a national crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two weeks ago, the DA pointed out that the G2G importation of 300,000 MT of rice is only a contingency measure since the country will have sufficient stocks by year end.
In fact, the agency released on April 28 another year-end food supply outlook showing the country to have an ending inventory worth 94 days by year end.
This, according to the agency, will be supported by higher palay production and unimpeded entry of imported rice through private deals.
The DA is targeting to achieve palay output of as much as 22.12 million MT, equivalent to 13.51 million MT of rice.
This would bring the country’s rice self-sufficiency to 93 percent from 87 percent last year and if achieved, would also be the country’s highest palay output in at least a decade.
When asked about this, DA Spokesperson Noel Reyes insisted that the G2G rice importation is just a “contingency measure” for the lean months.
Montemayor, however, is no longer confident about the country’s supply for the main staple.
“It was announced initially as a contingency measure. After that, Secretary Dar repeatedly said we have enough rice and there is nothing to worry about. Now they are pushing through with the importation. So, what is the contingency they are trying to address now? Dar must be more forthright with the real situation. I think the real situation is that without the imports, we are in a precarious situation,” Montemayor said in a separate interview.
“There could be a shortage if the private sector imports do not come in. But it seems the DA does not want to admit this publicly,” he added.
The issue about importation in general, according to Montemayor, is that even in countries like Vietnam, one of the world’s top rice exporters, there have been port problems that were prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been delaying the delivery of imports.
“I read that even in Vietnam they had port problems because workers could not report for work due to COVID-19. The other concern is the cost of the imports. Will private traders continue to import even when the price is increasing? If they decide not to import, it might be too late for the government to address any shortfall,” Montemayor added.
From January to April, the private sector was already able to bring in as much as 729,000 MT of imported rice in the Philippines. Of this, more than 600,000 MT of rice came from Vietnam.
On Monday, the DA said that the Vietnamese government has already decided to resume its rice exports to the Philippines and other members of ASEAN to maintain adequate food supply in the region.
This was more than a month since its government decided to limit the volume of rice that it is willing to sell to other countries amid the pandemic.
To be specific, Vietnam Industry and Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh assured the Philippines of the delivery of 400,000 MT of rice contracted in April.