MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines, one of the world's biggest rice buyers, expects to keep quantitative restrictions on its purchases of the grain in place until 2017 after winning international support to maintain import curbs, its agriculture secretary said on Monday.
This means the Southeast Asian nation will continue to impose a 40 percent duty on rice shipments for a yearly "minimum access volume" of 350,000 tonnes. It imports most of its rice from Vietnam, the world's No. 2 exporter of the grain after India.
Removing the restrictions on rice imports has been a hot trade issue in the Philippines, with the government pushing to keep the high tariffs to protect local farmers despite the country's commitment to support the removal of global trade barriers.
Recent negotiations in Geneva between the Philippines and concerned countries were "successful" and a formal approval by the World Trade Organization (WTO) of the extension of import restrictions could come as early as July, said Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.
"We have secured it already," he told reporters, referring to the country's bid to extend the import restrictions that were supposed to have expired in 2012.
In April, the WTO said the Philippines had asked for a waiver of its commitment to open its rice market, with Indonesia, India, Vietnam and China supporting the request.
At that time, Thailand, Canada, Australia and the United States were still consulting with the Philippines on its request, the WTO said in a notice posted on its website.
Critics of President Benigno Aquino's rice import policy blame the restrictions for the rampant smuggling of the national staple into the country.
The past six months saw the state grains procurement agency, National Food Authority, buying a total of 1.3 million tons of Vietnamese rice tariff free, its biggest purchase since 2010, to boost dwindling stockpiles and curb increases in local prices.
The government failed to meet its end-2013 rice inventory and self-sufficiency targets and blamed natural calamities last year, including a super typhoon, for the tight local supply.