The Philippines is the world’s number one importer of rice, surpassing even China, according to a new report released by the United States’ Department of Agriculture.
The USDA-Foreign Agricultural Services (USDA-FAS) report, released on Nov. 8, shows that 3.1 million metric tons of rice were imported by the Philippines this year, compared to China’s 2.5 million metric tons.
The Philippines’ record-setting amount of import is all the more staggering given the fact that the country’s population stands at just 100 million, while China’s is around 1.4 billion.
The USDA study notes that in just a few years, “the Philippines has emerged as one of the top global importers of rice, nearly on a par with China.” It added that the Philippines’s rice imports have quadrupled from 800,000 metric tons in 2016 to an anticipated 3.1 million in 2019, accounting for some 7 percent of total global rice imports.
The annual study was conducted between October 2018 and October 2019.
In March this year, the government implemented the Rice Tarrification Law, or Republic Act 11203. The law removed import restrictions, leading to a greater amount of rice bought from overseas flooding the market. This move, according to experts, prompted local rice prices to plunge to PHP38 (US$0.75) per kilogram as of the end of September, 17 percent lower than last year’s price of PHP46 (US$0.90) per kilogram. However, prices failed to hit the government’s promised low of PHP27 (US$0.5o).
The Philippines is also a major grower of rice, producing some 20 million tons a year, raising questions as to the impact of imports on prices for local growers.
But Agriculture Department spokesman Noel Reyes dismissed the USDA-FAS study, saying that the increase in importation was just a short-term effect of the Rice Tariffication Law. He also maintained that the increase in imports wouldn’t cause prices of locally grown rice to drop quickly — although they eventually will.
“We expect that the prices will go down, rice as well as palay [unhusked rice]. But with rice, we don’t expect [prices] to fall that quickly,” Reyes said. “Every time there’s a harvest, the prices go down.”
In September, farmers complained that they were having a hard time competing with cheap imports, and were forced to sell unhusked rice to traders for as low as PHP7 (US$0.13) per kilo, even though production costs were PHP8 (US$0.15) per kilo.
As of October, the country’s national rice inventory was at 2.28 million metric tons, with some 1.9 million metric tons coming from imports, according to the Bureau of Customs. The share of imports is 43.4 percent higher than the previous year’s record of 1.59 million metric tons, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.