MANILA: The Philippine government is looking to import 300,000 tonnes of rice to ensure sufficient domestic supply of the staple while it seeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the Southeast Asian country, a senior official said on Tuesday.
The Philippines became the world's biggest rice importer in 2019 with purchases estimated at a record 2.9 million tonnes. It usually buys from Vietnam, but also imports rice from Thailand.
Vietnam, the world's third-largest rice exporter, has temporarily suspended new rice export contracts while undertaking a review of its stockpiles to ensure it has enough domestic supplies to cope with the coronavirus outbreak.
Rice traders, however, said on Monday that Vietnam was expected to lift the suspension this week, with the government imposing a quota.
The Philippines' Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases has sought President Rodrigo Duterte's approval for a government-to-government rice purchase arrangement, said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.
The Department of Agriculture and other government agencies were now reaching out to Southeast Asian rice suppliers to negotiate for a deal, said Nograles, who is also the task force spokesman.
No further details were immediately available.
The Philippines' fresh rice demand comes at a time when export prices are at multi-year peaks, particularly in Thailand.
Global food security concerns are mounting as some governments contemplate restricting the flow of staple foods with around one-fifth of the world's population under lockdown to fight the widening coronavirus pandemic.
Cambodia will also ban some rice exports to ensure local food security during the coronavirus crisis.
Under government rules, the Philippine International Trading Corp, which is attached to the Department of Trade and Industry, is now in charge of importing rice to boost state stockpiles.
The Philippines last year scrapped caps on rice imports that were place for more than 20 years, allowing the private sector to buy unlimited volumes.
The government, which used to import rice through the National Food Authority, can only bring in shipments during emergencies.
Last week, Agriculture Secretary William Dar assured Filipinos that the country has enough rice for the next four months, taking into account current state stockpiles, the incoming local dry-season harvest, and continued importation.