Marcos eyes government-to-government importation of rice – DA

Rice dealers display rice and their prices at New York Street, Cubao, Quezon City on April 16, 2023.
STAR/ Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — In an effort to boost the stocks of the National Food Authority (NFA), President Marcos will preside over an inter-agency meeting at Malacañang today to discuss the government-to-government importation of rice, an official of the Department of Agriculture (DA) said.

At a press conference, Agriculture Assistant Secretary and deputy spokesman Rex Estoperez said Marcos is authorized to approve government rice importation during emergencies under the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) or Republic Act 11203.

“The President is worried as government stocks, the NFA (rice) stocks are not that high. It stands at 1.56 days to last or at least one million metric tons (MT) so that is a cause for worry for us,” Estoperez said.

Marcos has said that he is considering the importation of rice from India.

Estoperez clarified that the 1.56 days remaining inventory of the NFA was based on the daily consumption of the staple food for the entire country.

“The NFA will only have 1.56 days left if it will feed the entire population. But since the stocks are used for relief efforts, the 1.5 million MT of NFA rice are enough to supply the needs of the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) in its relief efforts,” he explained.

According to Estoperez, the country’s daily rice consumption is pegged at 67,000 MT.

He said that Marcos has the authority to order the government-to-government importation of rice amid the devastation brought by Typhoon Egay in various areas in the country.

In Pampanga alone, the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist pegged the damage brought by Egay to rice farms at P155.7 million. It also continues to record more damage cost to high-value crops, corn and the fisheries sector.

“With the power of the President, the importation will not only boost the inventory of the NFA, it will also soften the prices (of rice). We’ve done this before. We cannot control the private sector in increasing the retail prices (rice) but the government will be there to stabilize the price,” he pointed out.

Under the RTL, Estoperez said traders could import rice without any ceiling.

He said today’s meeting with Marcos would determine if there is really a need to import the grains through government-to-government negotiation. “We have to finalize. The President has the authority to do that. The government has previously negotiated with India, Vietnam and even Pakistan. With this calamity, the price of (rice) also increased in the world market.”

Marcos would also set the volume of rice to be imported under the government-to-government deal during the meeting.

Estoperez said the NFA failed to meet its target of procuring palay from the farmers with its allowable maximum buying price of P19 per kilo as the private sector was buying at P21 to P22 per kilo.

“It failed to compete, that is why the recommendation of the administrator of NFA (Robert Bioco), through the (NFA) Council, and will be submitted to the President is to increase the procurement price of the NFA and implement various strategies,” he added.

Meanwhile, Estoperez called on the public to limit the kilos of rice being bought to prevent unnecessary hoarding amid the expected spike in retail prices of the staple food.

“We should not buy (rice) too much as that will create another problem,” he said.

Estoperez has said that the decision of India to ban rice export will further increase the retail prices of rice.

Based on latest monitoring of the DA in Metro Manila markets, the retail prices of local regular milled rice are pegged to as high as P44 per kilo; local well-milled rice, P49 per kilo; local special rice, P60 per kilo; imported well-milled rice, P48 per kilo; imported premium rice, P50 per kilo and imported special rice, P58 per kilo. — Danessa Rivera

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