‘PHL to import more rice as output to stay flat’

The Philippines could retain its status as the world’s second largest buyer of rice for the fourth consecutive year in 2023, when total import volume is projected to reach 3 million metric tons (MMT).

In its monthly global grain report, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said the Philippines’s rice imports this year and next year would hit the 3-MMT level.

This is the first trade projection made by the USDA for calendar year 2023. The agency said China, which is expected to purchase 6 MMT, will remain as the world’s top buyer of rice.

The international agency said it expects local rice production in the Philippines to stay flat next year and this will provide opportunities for higher imports to meet the growing demand for the staple.

“Flat production and ample stocks keep imports steady even as consumption grows,” the USDA said in its report released recently.

The USDA projected that the Philippines’s rice output next year would slightly decline to 12.411 MMT from a projected record of 12.474 MMT this year.

The country’s total rice production this year would be 58,000 MT higher than the 12.416 MMT recorded output last year, based on USDA data.

The USDA said the Philippines’s total rice consumption would increase as consumers shift to the staple from more expensive wheat-based products, which are affected by the spike in raw material prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Consumption is also up in the Philippines as the high price of wheat is expected to raise consumption of rice for food,” it said.

USDA data showed that the country’s total rice consumption next year would expand by 150,000 metric tons (MT) to 15.35 MMT from an estimated total requirement of 15.2 MMT this year. Likewise, the USDA projected that total rice consumption of the Philippines this year would be 5 percent higher than last year’s 14.45 MMT.

The country’s rice imports in the first quarter surged by almost 70 percent year-on-year to 985,139.995 MT as importers brought in more staple food in anticipation of tighter world supply and lower domestic output.

Latest Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) data showed that rice imports during the January-to-March period were 404,057.065 MT higher than the 581,082.93 MT recorded last year.

In March alone, about 414,243.005 MT of rice entered the country.

Historical BPI data showed that the 985,139.995 MT of rice imports from January to March is the highest first-quarter import volume recorded by the country since the implementation of rice trade liberalization law in 2019.

Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy, Planning and Research Fermin D. Adriano cited two possible reasons for the rise in imports: the importers’ expectation of tighter global staple supply and the projected lower domestic rice output.

Adriano said some wheat-eating countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Middle East are projected to shift to rice due to global supply problems caused by the Ukraine-Russia war.

He also said the expected decline in local palay production due to the reduction in fertilizer use had prompted importers to bring in more rice from abroad.

An industry group told the BusinessMirror earlier that the election season had contributed to the need for more rice imports given the demand for low-cost rice.

“The election campaigns and relief operations, however, created the demand for low-priced rice in the market that can be supplied by some countries like Myanmar,” multisector industry group Philippine Rice Industry Stakeholders Movement (Prism) said.

The group said the current government “can ill afford” a repeat of the 2018 rice price crisis when prices of palay and milled rice skyrocketed and caused inflation to accelerate.

“Panic buying and long queuing for rice can be disastrous for public image during election.”

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