Marcos eyes deals with Vietnam, Cambodia for rice supply amid El Niño threat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 7) — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. discussed rice importation during his bilateral meetings with top leaders from Vietnam and Cambodia to stabilize local supply amid the looming impact of El Niño on the agriculture sector.

The Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh proposed a five-year rice importation arrangement on the sidelines of the 43rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Indonesia, a suggestion welcomed by the Philippine president.

“The suggestion of a longer-term arrangement is an important one because just having that as an assurance will stabilize the situation, not only for the Philippines but for all of us in the region,” Marcos told Chinh.

“Agriculture again this is something, especially in the face of what we are anticipating in terms of El Niño and drought… We hope that we can find an agreement so that there will be an exchange,” he said.

Official data showed the country imported 1.5 million tons of rice from Vietnam worth $772.4 million in January to May.

Meanwhile, Malacañang said Marcos also raised the possibility of his administration sourcing rice from Cambodia during his one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Hun Manet.

Apart from this, the government expressed intent to request Cambodia to ease the terms and conditions for rice importers in the Philippines to ensure a steady supply of the staple.

The Palace added that Cambodia is targeting to get a one percent share of the market of imported rice in the Philippines by 2024, and has encouraged stakeholders to increase rice exports.

Deals between Khmer Foods company and rice importers in the Philippines resulted in the export to the country of about 2,500 tons of rice from Cambodia in May this year.

According to the PCO, this was the first time the Philippines imported a significant tonnage of rice from Cambodia after the passage of the Rice Tariffication Law in 2019, which allowed private entities, instead of the government, to import rice from any country, subject to certain rules.

The Philippines started implementing a price ceiling on rice on Sept. 5 after authorities monitored a price surge, a decision which drew mixed reactions. Retailers also called for immediate aid from the government.

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

Marcos puts the blame on smugglers and hoarders for the issue on rice prices.

Expanded maritime cooperation, commercial aviation

Aside from the rice agreement, the Philippines and Vietnam also pushed for a deal on maritime cooperation, focused on "prevention and management of incidents in the South China Sea.”

“The agreement that we are proposing is very important because it should not limit itself only to security and defense issues but also on the fishing rights,” Marcos said.

“So again we have an understanding between the two countries so that we will not have any problems between your fishermen and ours,” he added.

Marcos and the Cambodian prime minister, meanwhile, agreed to look into expanding direct flights between their countries given the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“I shall, as my homework when I get back, look into the possibility of our airline increasing the number of flights to other destinations in Cambodia that we would like to go to. This is something that goes both ways,” Marcos said.