MANILA - The Philippines will import an extra 500,000 tonnes of rice to increase its thin stockpiles after a typhoon damaged crops last week, in a deal that could help boost export prices in key producers such as Vietnam.
The fresh demand announced on Wednesday by the Philippines' food security chief, Francis Pangilinan, brings the country's total rice purchases for this year's needs to nearly 2 million tonnes, the highest in four years, making the country one of the world's biggest rice buyers.
"We have agreed that we will import an additional 500,000 metric tonnes of rice," Pangilinan told local radio. "There will be a tender and (the shipment) is expected to come in by end of August, first week of September."
Pangilinan met with the country's economic managers on Tuesday to seek approval for the fresh rice imports.
Typhoon Rammasun, the strongest storm to hit the Philippines since Super Typhoon Haiyan in November, killed 97 people and damaged $172 million worth crops and infrastructure.
"We lost some 50,000 metric tonnes from the typhoon and local harvest is not expected to start until end of September," Pangilinan said.
Inventories at the Philippines' state grains procurement agency, the National Food Authority, were currently good for 82 or 83 days of national consumption, below a requirement for a 90-day buffer stock, he said.
"We need to augment our stocks," he said. "If we don't intervene, local rice prices will remain high or even rise further."
The latest purchase will add to a series of deals from last November to import a total of 1.5 million tonnes of rice from Vietnam, the country's traditional supplier.
Prices of Vietnamese low-quality 25-percent broken rice were quoted at $385-$390 a tonne a week ago, up around 5 percent from the week before and the highest in nearly seven months amid limited supply and regional buying.
The country was Asia's fourth-biggest rice importer in 2013 and the world's eighth-largest. The government approved a total 705,000 tonnes of rice imports last year, of which about 300,000 tonnes arrived early this year.
The Philippines recently shifted away from setting a target date for a plan to be completely self-sufficient in the production of rice likely keeping its doors open to imports beyond the current goal of 2016.
The United States' Department of Agriculture has forecast that the Philippines may need to import as much as 2 million tonnes of rice this year and 1.8 million tonnes in 2015.