MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines, one of the world's biggest rice buyers, said on Friday that it would loosen restrictions on imports of the grain, boosting opportunities for key suppliers in the region such as Vietnam and Thailand.
The Southeast Asian nation plans to reduce tariffs on imports, with a charge of 35 percent on total annual shipments up to 805,200 tons, and 50 percent beyond that level, Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano told reporters.
The current tariff is 40 percent on shipments up to 350,000 tons, and 50 percent beyond that point.
Serrano, discussing the details of a recent agreement between the Philippines and major rice exporters, said the new duty rates would last until 2017.
"It's a done deal," he said, adding that the Philippines expects formal approval of the new deal from the World Trade Organization (WTO) next month. "It will take effect immediately."
Under the new deal, Serrano said the Philippines could buy up to 293,000 tons of rice with the 35 percent tariff from Vietnam, with the same amount from Thailand; 50,000 tons each from China, India and Pakistan; 15,000 tons from Australia; 4,000 tons from El Salvador; and 50,000 tons from other exporters.
The Philippines had been negotiating with export nations in Geneva to extend the import restrictions approved by the WTO that were originally 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.
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.