THE Philippine government is studying the possibility of opening to the pri-vate sector its standby authority on rice importation, the state-run National Food Authority (NFA) said on Tuesday.
In a telephone interview, NFA Spokesperson Angel Imperial said the interagency NFA Council has forwarded to the Office of the President the recommendation to import 250,000 metric tons of rice to ensure a stable supply.
The volume was part of the 500,000 standby authority approved by the previous administration on expectations that local palay production will fall short of target due to the El Niño.
“We have to bring in the rice in tranches so as not to affect prices of palay during the wet harvest season,” Imperial said, noting that the arrival of the shipment would depend on the requirement.
Traditionally, the lean season starts in July and ends in September. It is also the time when the government imports rice to help stabilize prices in retail markets.
However, due to an oversupply of the grains in government and private warehouses, the NFA has deferred rice importation. It is the first time in decades that the Philippines has not imported rice during the lean months.
Other possible schemes being considered for the first round of importation under the Duterte administration is a private sector-led importation out of the standby authority and a government-to-government bidding for the minimum access volume (MAV), Imperial said.
MAV is the minimum volume of farm produce allowed to enter the Philippines at a reduced tariff of 35 percent, while shipments outside MAV pay a higher rate of 40 percent and would need an NFA approval.
The government more than doubled the volume of rice from 350,000 MT to 805,200 MT allowed to enter the country as part of trade concessions at the World Trade Organization in exchange for extending the quantitative restriction on rice.
Of the total volume, some 755,000MT will be country-specific- quota (with Vietnam and Thailand getting the bulk), while the remaining 50,000 MT is omnibus volume and can be sourced anywhere.
Manila historically allows private sector importation under CSQ.
An industry source, however, said this may not be the case under the Duterte administration, noting that government-controlled warehouses are well stocked.
“We may see more private sector importation this year, since NFA warehouses are overloaded with imported rice from last year,” the source said, adding that the grains agency is having difficulty disposing old stocks.