MANILA - The Philippines will allow major rice retailers to import up to 350,000 tons of the grain, its agriculture minister said on Monday, potentially bringing the country's total purchases this year to 2.4 million tons, the second highest on record.
The Philippines, which buys rice from neighbors Vietnam and Thailand, is aggressively boosting purchases to replenish storm-hit stocks and tame high prices that have helped push inflation to the highest in nearly a decade.
This year's approved purchases would mark the largest rice imports by the Southeast Asian country since 2010, when shipments reached a record 2.45 million tons amid fears of shortages following spikes in global food prices.
Expectations of new orders from the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan helped lift rice export prices in Thailand last week, traders said.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the National Food Authority (NFA) has "approved in principle" the trade ministry's proposal to allow retailers to ship in additional volumes to boost supplies and reduce high prices of the staple.
The 350,000 tons that retailers can bring in would be on top of the 750,000 tons that the NFA is set to import before the end of the year.
The NFA has already bought 500,000 tons of rice earlier this year, and private traders were allowed to ship in up to 805,200 tons under an annual quota scheme.
Piñol has blamed rice hoarders for the price spikes, but some have also criticized the NFA for not importing rice promptly to prevent the shortage in government stocks.
"The NFA council will no longer tolerate a messy rice industry," Piñol, who now chairs the council following a revamp, told reporters.
"We will have to put things in order, we will have to protect the consumers and at the same time, ensure that the farmers are also given their rewards if they produce good quality rice."
The Philippines imports around a tenth of its annual rice consumption, with the annual paddy rice crop of about 19 million tons often at risk from an average of 20 typhoons that hit the
country each year.
More than 250,000 tons of paddy rice were destroyed by Typhoon Mangkhut in September, government estimates showed.