Philippines minister says must import extra rice by year-end

MANILA - Plans by the Philippines to potentially import an additional 1 million tonnes of rice should be carried out by year-end, as crop losses from storms and El Nino make it more urgent to boost stocks for 2016, a senior government official said.

About 5 percent of the Southeast Asian nation's projected paddy rice harvest for the fourth quarter is estimated to have been lost after Typhoon Koppu ploughed into the Southeast Asian nation over the weekend. "It should be within the year," Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said when asked about the timing of the country's next rice purchase after buying around 2.3 million tonnes in recent months.

The Philippines is one of the world's biggest buyers of the staple grain, with the possibility of imminent extra purchases good news for major suppliers such as Vietnam and Thailand. "It's a choice - you import or you want (local) prices to skyrocket again," Balisacan told reporters on Friday.

Rice prices surged in the Philippines last year following the devastation and supply disruption caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan in late 2013, pushing more Filipinos into poverty.

Balisacan, who heads the country's food security council, added that there could be purchases beyond the extra 1 million tonnes after the extent of damage from Koppu had been more-fully assessed. "By November there will be an assessment of the extent of replanting, the delays in planting (and) which damaged areas could still be planted within this year." A government-led panel that approves rice imports is due to meet on Oct. 29 or earlier to review local supply.

Prior to Koppu, the country's National Food Authority Council, of which Balisacan is also a member, was already assessing the need to import more rice amid expectations that El Nino would intensify and extend until the second quarter of 2016. The weather pattern typically brings dry weather to much of Asia.

Meanwhile, central bank officials said they were assessing the typhoon's impact on farm output and prices, along with the severity of El Nino. They said they would take these factors into account at next month's monetary policy meeting.

Philippine inflation slowed for a seventh straight month in September to a new record low, bolstering views interest rates would be left unchanged the rest of the year.