PH overtakes China as world's top rice importer in 2023 – USDA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 14) — The Philippines was named the world's top rice importer for the marketing year 2022-2023, according to the latest report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA's "Grain: World Markets and Trade" revealed that the country has approved the importation of 3.9 million metric tons (MT) of rice from January 2022 to December 2023.

It surpassed China's rice importation at 3.5 million MT during the same period. China was hailed as a consistent top rice importer since 2019.

"In 2008, top importer the Philippines continuously bought larger volumes as prices escalate," the report read. "This year, it is delaying purchases, awaiting lower prices."

For January 2023 to August 2024, the Philippines is seen to slightly decrease its importation by 100,000 MT while China is expected to increase its importation by 500,000 MT, regaining world's top rice importer spot.

In terms of milled rice production, the Philippines lags behind at 12.631 million MT from China's 145.946 million MT and India's 136 million MT production for the year 2022-2023.

Thailand and Vietnam are reportedly the top two sources of imported rice in the Philippines in 2023.

Earlier, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who concurrently heads the Department of Agriculture (DA), ordered a price ceiling on rice after the government detected a surge in prices.

The executive order states that regular milled rice may only be sold for up to ₱41 per kilo, while the price ceiling on well-milled rice is at ₱45 per kilo. Its implementation began on Sept. 5.

The directive drew mixed reactions from lawmakers and various farmers’ groups. Some said the price cap would not stabilize grain prices and would only hurt small-scale retailers in the long run. Others, however, said it has contributed to the drop in rice prices.

READ: Gov’t warns of stricter rice price cap implementation in coming days

Marcos admin blamed

Reacting to the USDA report, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) on Thursday hit the Marcos administration, as it attributed the country’s top importer status to the president’s “import liberalization policies.”

"This is nothing to be proud of,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said. “We are an agricultural country and yet we are set to become the world's top rice importer."

"Just as we warned about four years ago, RA (Republic Act) 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law led us to this state of food insecurity,” he added.

The group reiterated its call for the government to do away with importation, which it said has contributed to the chronic problems of the domestic rice industry.

It noted that local rice farmers suffer, as palay prices are seen to drop “to their lowest levels” whenever imports arrive.

At the Asian Summit in Singapore on Wednesday, Marcos acknowledged that the country cannot continue to rely on importation and said the government will continue to develop the Philippine agricultural sector.

Meanwhile, the KMP also emphasized its position against zero tariffs on rice imports and called on Marcos to step down as DA secretary.

A number of other groups have also urged the president to appoint a full-time agriculture chief, as issues concerning the sector have piled up since the early days of his administration.

Earlier, Marcos said he is still needed in the Agriculture department and that he will only leave the top DA post once "structural changes" have been made in the agency.