The Philippines is eyeing a possible rice supply deal with Cambodia as it braces for the effects of the El Niño phenomenon on its food supply.

President Marcos expressed Manila's intention to engage with Phnom Penh on agriculture, especially on rice trade, during his bilateral meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet yesterday here.

'Some MOUs (memoranda of understanding) that have lapsed… we really need to look back and engage with in terms of trade in agriculture, rice specifically. When I visited you in Cambodia last time, that (was the) subject that we were talking about. We were preparing for this drought. It's now happening,' Marcos told Hun on the sidelines of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Australia Special Summit here.

'It caught our attention. We really should look into it. Something that is necessary now. That's the lesson learned from (the) pandemic. We really have to be flexible in looking (at) our suppliers,' he added.

Marcos visited Cambodia in 2022 to participate in the 40th and 41st ASEAN summits.

The Philippines, he said, is improving its palay production but still needs to import to secure its rice inventory. One area to explore and strengthen is to improve its ties with other rice-producing countries like Cambodia, he added.

In a statement, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said the Philippines and Cambodia agreed 'to explore increased rice supply cooperation.'

Last week, the Philippine government said that as many as 80 provinces may be affected by El Niño. The phenomenon, which is seen to persist until May, has caused agricultural damage in Ilocos, MIMAROPA, Western Visayas and Zamboanga Peninsula.

The agriculture department has given an assurance that the supply of rice, corn, pork, sugar and other commodities remains adequate.

Citing the 2024 rice supply and demand outlook, the PCO said rice supply in the Philippines would be stable until the end of the year with an annual average surplus of 3.7 million metric tons or 99 days of buffer or days to last.

More flights eyed

Marcos and Hun also discussed connectivity and trade and investment during the bilateral meeting.

Hun said he wanted to have follow-up discussions on connectivity and increasing the number of tourists from Cambodia to the Philippines and vice versa. He noted that there are already five flights from Cambodia to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and raised the possibility of having a flight from Cambodia to Cebu. Cambodia has just opened an airport in Siem Reap and is set to open another one in Phnom Penh next year, Hun added.

Marcos told Hun the Philippine government has contracted a group to modernize and improve the efficiency of the Manila airport, acknowledging that the facility 'has been neglected for years.'

The government, the President said, is also developing other regional airports closer to tourist spots to encourage tourists to visit the Philippines.

'We are also encouraging flights to regional airports. I think that is what we keep hearing, low hanging fruit. I'm sure Filipinos will be interested. I count myself. I am interested to go in... travel in Cambodia,' Marcos said.

'We have done little yet to explore. I fully agree. That's for two countries, an advantage for us. I'm very much open (to) that. We will try to see, when I get back, which regional airports are ready to take international tourists and visitors. And I will be glad if we could increase the volume of exchange… tourism, travelers, and even business.'

Marcos is scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon today.

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