NFA Sets Deadline On Rice Imports To Avoid Paying Duties

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The Philippines, the world's biggest rice buyer in recent years, has set a June 30 deadline for importers of the grain to avoid duties on 380,000 tons of shipments, a National Food Authority (NFA) official said on Thursday.

"Time is running out," Angelito Banayo, administrator of the state grain buyer, told reporters at an industry conference in Singapore.

"We have to have all the shipments in by June 30.

The Philippines has lifted the 40 percent import duty on rice until June 30, but importers will have to pay a service fee in lieu of the tariff exemption," he added.

The Philippines is cutting rice imports for the private sector this year to 380,000 tonnes because it expects good crops but it may consider more government imports to cover its planned 500,000-tonne purchases, farm officials have said.

On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said the state grains buyer may have to buy 120,000 tonnes of rice via a government-to-government deal this year to maintain a healthy buffer stock.

Alcala did not identify the government Manila hoped to source the rice from, but the Philippines usually buys about two-thirds of its annual rice imports from Vietnam, the world's No. 2 exporter, and small volumes from biggest seller Thailand.

Banayo said a decision could be made by the end of March.

"We want some figures on production clarified so we will have a meeting by the end of this month to decide on the imports of the balance 120,000 tonnes," he added.

Tenders for permits to import 190,000 tonnes of rice each have been set for March 19 and 26.

The Philippines cut its rice purchases to 860,000 tonnes last year from a record 2.45 million in 2010, and plans to trim them further to 100,000 tonnes next year in its quest to become self-sufficient in the national staple by the end of 2013.

The country aims to produce 17.6 million tonnes of unmilled rice in the year to June 2012 against 16.8 million a year ago, Banayo said.

The Philippines is cutting rice imports for the private sector this year to 380,000 tons because of expected good crops but may consider more government imports to cover its planned 500,000-tonne purchases, farm officials said.

The Department of Agriculture had previously said the entire 500,000 tons approved for import for 2012 year would be brought in by the private sector.

Alcala did not identify which government Manila would source the rice from but Manila usually buys about two-thirds of its annual rice import needs from Vietnam, the world's No. 2 exporter, and small volumes from biggest seller Thailand.

Alcala's comments followed the NFA's announcement earlier it would limit rice imports by the private sector this year to 380,000 tons for now.

A second tender for permits to import 190,000 tons of rice had been set on March 26, Gilbert Lauengco, special assistant to the NFA administrator, told Reuters.

The first tender for permits to import the same volume of rice will be held on March 19.

Lauengco said private rice traders may buy rice from Vietnam, Thailand, India or Cambodia.

The Philippines, the world's biggest rice buyer in recent years, cut its rice purchases to 860,000 tons last year from a record 2.45 million in 2010.

It plans to further trim rice purchases to 100,000 tons next year as the poor Southeast Asian economy aims to become self-sufficient in the national staple by the end of 2013.

Last month, the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics said it may raise the first-half rice output forecast by as much as 1 million tons because of changes in cropping patterns, making any unplanned grain imports unlikely this year.

Alcala said rice farmers have agreed to advance the planting schedule for the wet cropping season by two months, to April or May.

"We anticipate that this shift will allow farmers to harvest before the onset of the typhoon months," he said.

Rice output during the wet cropping season from June to October, when typhoons usually arrive, accounts for about 60 percent of the country's full-year production.

The Philippines aims to produce a record 18.46 million tons of unmilled rice this year.

Meanwhile, Thailand, the world's biggest rice exporter, plans to curb rice output by asking farmers not to grow an off-season rice crop in order to boost soil quality and aid flood prevention measures, a senior Agriculture Ministry official said.

The trial program would cut about 600,000 tons of rice production if fully implemented - compared with Thailand's annual output of about 30-35 million tons - but is meeting resistance from farm groups.

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