MANILA – Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. has given importers less than five weeks to use the permits granted to them to buy additional 1 million tons of rice from abroad to boost local stocks.
In a news release on Tuesday, the Department of Agriculture reported that Laurel has assured the Committee on Agriculture and Food of the House of Representatives that the agency is closely watching the market and is taking steps to assure sufficient supply of food items at affordable prices particularly rice, sugar and onions.
“Sabi ko, kapag hindi ninyo i-import yan within 30 days, kakanselahin ko lahat yan (I told them that I will cancel all permits if they don’t import within 30 days) because I don’t want to be held hostage by permits that were issued to them upon their request,” he said.
Laurel said the DA could better manage the supply of rice, the country’s main food staple, and avoid price surges that hurt consumers by ensuring that all import permits are used quickly.
The DA expects total palay harvest this year to exceed 20 million metric tons (MT) compared to 19.76 million MT last year.
Meanwhile, the total rice imports are projected at 2.86 million MT —barring additional imports in the coming weeks— down 1 million MT from 2022 levels.
According to DA’s current numbers, the country has a rice surplus of 2.98 million MT which is enough to last 80 days.
Laurel said additional imports would extend that supply period through the next harvest season starting March.
However, high global price of rice due mainly to India’s ban on export of non-basmati rice has discouraged rice importation.
As for onion prices, Laurel assured it would not skyrocket like in December 2022 when it reached PHP700 per kilo.
Currently, the prevailing market price of red and white onion is at PHP140 and PHP110 per kilo, respectively.
As for sugar, Laurel said there is ample stocks of it but these are already contracted to industrial users.
He said sugar should be selling at PHP85 per kilo and not PHP100 per kilo.
“We will do some interventions soon in order to address this (price disparity) problem. Unfortunately, I cannot divulge publicly kung ano yung mga gagawin natin (the actions we are going to take) through the efforts of the Department of Trade and Industry, Sugar Regulatory Administration and DA,” he said. (PNA)