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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

PHL eye Vietnam, Cambodia for rice imports

MANILA is considering the possibility of negotiating with the governments of Vietnam and Cambodia for the purchase of as much as 120,000 metric tons (MT) of milled rice, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said on Wednesday.

The 120,000 MT of milled rice is part of the 500,000 MT initially approved by the National Food Authority (NFA) Council for importation this year. In its meeting last week, the NFA council reduced the volume and approved the tender for a total of 380,000 MT.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala, however, said the government is not deviating from its plan of bringing in 500,000 MT of rice into the Philippines this year.

“Resorting to government-to-government negotiations is one of the options we are considering. We have not reduced the volume that we will import. At the end of the day, [the volume of rice imports for 2012] would still total 500,000 tons,” said Alcala at the sidelines of the Food Security Strategies Forum held in Quezon City on Wednesday.

The keynote speaker during the forum was Harvard University professor Dr. Peter Timmer of the Center for Global Development who talked about the “broad-based strategies” for achieving food security.

He said the government may go the government-to-government route if only to ensure the NFA will have enough buffer stock prior to the lean months. The food agency is mandated to stock around 30 days’ worth of rice, or around 1 million tons by July.

The Philippine government has an existing rice supply agreement with Vietnam for the purchase of as much as 1.5 million metric tons (MMT) of milled rice at a negotiated price.

The agreement will expire in 2013 when the Philippines is expected to become self-sufficient in rice.

Alcala said Cambodia is keen on forging a memorandum of understanding with the Philippine government for the sale of rice.

“Cambodia is offering to sell rice at very competitive prices,” he said.

Gilbert Lauengco of the NFA’s Bids and Awards Committee said the tender for the second tranche of 190,000 MT will be held on March 26.

“It was the NFA Council’s decision to tender [a total of] 380,000 MT of rice. It’s up to the council to decide on what to do with the 120,000 tons,” said Lauengco in a telephone interview.

The NFA council is an inter-agency body that approves the volume and the manner of importing rice in a given year. Alcala chairs the council while NFA Administrator Angelito T. Banayo sits as the vice-chairman.

In December last year, the DA declared that the private sector was allowed by the NFA council to bring in the entire 500,000 MT. The NFA, which used to import the bulk of the country’s requirements, would only serve as “a clearinghouse.”

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