Reduced rice imports is DA’s wishful thought

By Rose de la Cruz

With damage to rice from El Nino placed at P1.72 billion of 72,733 metric tons planted in 34,264 hectares as of April 1 and water resources practically drying up, The Department of Agriculture is saying its wishful thought about reduced rice imports this year, when historically even during abundant harvest, the DA has been increasing imports of the commodity.

The predictions of DA about reduced imports merely reflect its uneasiness about present realities of a constantly heating atmosphere and reduced water levels of the dam– which would naturally affect new planting and standing crops, aside from the unstoppable rice retail price hikes. Defying the realities of nature, The DA wants to project that it is in control of the situation.

Its confidence in projecting less imports could be because the government has clinched supplies from Vietnam (at least for five years) and just recently non-basmati rice from India. Other than these sources, thoigh, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the Philippines to buy rice from the usual global sources, as these countries suffer from the same weather aberration and tight supplies worldwide leading to constantly increasing prices.

The fact that DA had earlier projected rice prices to keep increasing is an indication that supplies would continue to be tight locally (therefore higher retail and farmgate prices for palay).

On Thursday, DA Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. debunked the forecast of the US Department of Agriculture that the Philippines could buy 4 million metric tons (MMT) of imported rice in 2024. But Laurel said he feels “we do not need to bring in 4MMT,” calling USDA’s forecast as “a  bit too high,” Inquirer reported.

Last month, the USDA– citing the weakened El Nino forecast– downgraded its forecast on Philippine rice imports to 4 million MT from its previous projection of 4.1 million MT, noting that domestic production would cover the slight increase in demand.

Laure– citing government estimates– said there was an expected “incremental increase” in local output at 4.78 million MT in the first quarter, up by 1.11 percent from 2023. He added that production “seems to be okay even with [the] El Niño phenomenon.”

He acknowledged though that “the production in the second quarter might be affected because this is the height of [the] El Niño [phenomenon] but after El Niño, we expect our harvest to be okay with the coming La Niña phenomenon, the effect won’t be that much.”

The USDA’s import projection is relatively flat as “the weakened El Niño forecast will support improved growing conditions for the wet season rice crop resulting in stable import demand.”

The USDA commented that the MAV (minimum access volume) or tariff rate quota for rice imports, set at 350,000 MT, was “largely irrelevant” as at least 90 percent of imported rice comes from Southeast Asian countries.

All rice imports are subject to the tariff rate of 35 percent until end-2024, per Executive Order No. 50 signed by President Marcos in December 2023.

The country imported 793,753.49 MT of rice as of March 7, based on data from the Bureau of Plant Industry. Vietnam, as in the previous years, accounted for the majority of the supply with 431,846.72 MT, followed by Thailand with 210,127.38 MT, Inquirer said.

In 2023, the volume of rice that entered the Philippines totaled 3.6 million MT, lower than 3.8 million MT last year.

The USDA projected rice production at 12.125 MMT if El Nino weakens by April and May as projected by weather experts.

The Philippines produced a total of 20.06 million MT of rice in 2023, up by 1.5 percent, government statistics showed, surpassing the record output in 2021 of 19.96 MMT.

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