MANILA - The Philippines will in the next three weeks choose Cambodia, Thailand or Vietnam to supply up to 120,000 tonnes of rice it needs to boost its buffer stocks, a senior government official said on Wednesday.
The country's state grains procurement agency said last month it would import the rice to deepen its reserves before the lean harvest season begins in July, with rice producers in its Southeast Asian neighbours eagerly awaiting a decision.
The Philippines usually buys about three-quarters of its annual rice imports from the world's No. 2 exporter, Vietnam, and small volumes from the biggest seller, Thailand.
But Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said a general agreement for Cambodia to supply rice to the Philippines could be finalized by next week, meaning that country would be in the running for the latest contract.
"Cambodia is willing to trade with us with no money involved," he told reporters. "We could export chickens to them and they also need fertilizer."
The Philippines, the world's biggest rice buyer in recent years, has decided to slash imports to 500,000 tonnes in 2012 from 860,000 tonnes last year and a record 2.45 million tonnes in 2010.
It may further trim purchases to 100,000 tonnes next year as it aims to become self-sufficient in the national staple by the end of 2013.
Local rice traders and farmers' groups are allowed to import up to 380,000 tonnes this year.
Alcala, who is also chairman of the grains procurement agency, known as the National Food Authority (NFA), added that the Philippines' unmilled rice output in the first quarter was likely higher than record production of 4.037 million tonnes in the same period last year due to favourable weather.
The Bureau of Agricultural Statistics is scheduled to release rice output data for the January-March quarter around the middle of this month.