PHILIPPINE rice imports have amounted to 1.07 million metric tons (MT) as of late March, according to the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).

Rice shipments during the period were up 33% from 2023’s first quarter total.

Shipments between March 1 and 27 amounted to 304,407.18 MT.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has estimated that Philippine rice imports would increase to 4 million MT this year. The estimate, if borne out, would be 11.7% higher than the 3.58 million MT imported in 2023.

However, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said that the imports are unlikely to hit USDA forecast levels due to better-than-expected domestic production. The DA is targeting a palay (unmilled rice) harvest at above 20 million MT.

Agriculture Secretary Francisco P. Tiu Laurel, Jr. said that the estimated import number was a “worst-case scenario” in the event that domestic rice output proves to be severely affected by El Niño.

The BPI reported that Vietnam remained the country’s top supplier of rice as of late March, accounting for 59.6% of all imports or 638,989.35 MT.

In January, the Philippine and Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding giving the Philippines a quota of 1.5 million to 2 million MT of rice annually for five years.

Thailand supplied 248,618.43 MT during the period, or 23.2% of the total, followed by Pakistan with 119,278.5 MT or 11.1% of the total.

Other top sources of rice were Myanmar and China which shipped 58,060 and 3,900 MT of rice imports, respectively.

The government has also expressed interest in coming to a similar supply arrangement with Cambodia.

Rice shipments from Cambodia amounted to 1,620 MT in the year to date.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has said that such deals would improve supply at a time when the domestic crop is threatened by droughts and dry spells brought on by El Niño.

Agricultural damage and losses topped P2.63 billion with rice and corn as the most affected crops, the DA reported. — Adrian H. Halili