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Philippines mulls safeguard duty on rice as import surge hurts farmers

[MANILA] The Philippines said on Monday it is considering imposing a safeguard duty on rice to ease the pain of local farmers hurting from a surge in imports of the staple grain.

The Southeast Asian nation, which is one of the world's biggest rice importers and often buys grains from its neighbours Vietnam and Thailand, lifted a two-decade-old cap on purchases early this year and replaced it with tariffs.

The policy shift led to unhampered importation of rice by the private sector, with this year's purchases so far reaching 2.4 million tonnes, way beyond what it needs to fill the supply gap.

That helped bring down retail prices by 10%-13%, as of this month, from a year earlier, easing Philippine inflation to the lowest in nearly three years last month, from its peak in almost a decade recorded in September last year.

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Local rice farmers suffered as a consequence, however, as farmgate prices plunged, prompting farmers' groups and some lawmakers to call for a review of the rice tariffication law.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar, who did not say how much the additional duty would be, vowed to protect small farmers "by not allowing additional imports especially this main harvest season", which begins this month.

The Philippines' move to restrict rice imports comes at a time export prices in Vietnam are near a 12-year low due to weak demand.

"I have taken the necessary steps and the direction where we will enforce legal measures during these times when we have greatly exceeded the volume needed to fill up the slack in national rice supply," Mr Dar said in a statement.

Last week, Mr Dar said the country's food security agency, the National Food Authority (NFA), would "flood" the domestic rice market with an additional 180,000 tonnes from its stockpiles to bring down retail prices further.

The NFA will aggressively buy local farmers' produce, at a higher price than usual, to replenish its stocks.

REUTERS