Traders sought to import just 12,114 tons of rice into the Philippines on Friday out of 164,770 tons on offer as the government defended the price it paid in a recent rice deal with Vietnam.
The Philippines, the world's biggest rice importer, is trying to encourage more private firms to buy the grain from overseas but there is little interest due to high prices and stiff competition from the state, which sells rice at a discount.
Domestic traders have criticized the government for paying $940 a ton, including cost and freight, for 600,000 tons of rice from Hanoi in a $564 million government-to-government deal this month.
Sixty percent of the shipment was low grade 25 percent broken variety, 30 percent was 15 percent broken and the rest was 5 percent broken.
The price was far above the floor price of $800 a ton, free on board, that Vietnam has set for selling high quality 5-percent broken rice.
But Manila defended its purchase, which will be delivered during a traditional lean period in the third quarter.
"At this point, with the limited supply of rice available for sale internationally, the world market for rice remains a sellers' market," the Department of Agriculture said in a statement.
But international prices of the grain are dropping after Vietnam and Cambodia lifted shipment curbs and as Manila said it had wrapped up its purchases for 2008.
After the Philippines and Vietnam agreed their deal, Malaysia said it would put on hold talks to buy rice from Thailand, while prices fall.
International rice prices dropped 3 percent this week from last week and are down 30 percent from a peak of $1,080 a ton in April.
In the Philippines, the state's grain importing arm is expected to rack up a deficit of P43 billion ($960 million) this year from a shortfall of 2.6 billion last year after paying record prices and then selling the grain at a discount at home.
Unable to compete against the state, only 14 private traders joined in the bidding on Friday despite the government waiving the usual import tariff of 50 percent and offering a small rebate for early delivery.
Private traders have bought just 69,404 tons out of a total volume offered of 200,000 tons and a fraction of the 2.3 million tons that the government has bought.
There was a price cap of $1,200 per ton cost-and-freight, but the private importers would have to settle prices themselves with overseas suppliers.