MANILA - The Philippines' food security agency plans to buy 250,000 tonnes of rice in a government-to-government deal with Vietnam or Thailand to beef up depleted buffer stock, a spokesman said on Sunday.
The purchase is on top of the importation of 250,000 tonnes in an open international tender that has already been approved, Rex Estoperez, spokesman of the state-run National Food Authority (NFA), told Reuters.
The Philippines, a frequent rice importer, saw domestic prices of the staple grain increase by 3-4 percent in late January and rise further in the succeeding weeks, as state stockpiles dropped to their lowest in more than two decades.
Higher rice prices added pressure to Philippine inflation, which hit an annual pace of 4.3 percent in March, the fastest in five years.
Rice imports will boost the buffer stock of the NFA, which supplies cheaper rice to the local market and helps stabilise domestic prices.
Asked if the emergency purchase needed NFA Council approval, Estoperez said President Rodrigo Duterte had already authorised NFA Administrator Jason Aquino to proceed with theimportation.
The council, composed of government economic managers, earlier approved the purchase of 250,000 tonnes via a tender open to international traders and suppliers, for delivery starting May, ahead of the lean domestic harvest season from July.
The council prefers an open tender, which makes pricing transparent and less prone to corruption, over a government-to-government deal.
(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Michael Perry)
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