Rice shipment delays noted, but local supply seen stable


THE National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) is growing wary of shipment delays affecting the country’s rice imports, but industry players and experts dismissed its possible adverse impact on the country’s supply of the staple.

Neda Undersecretary Mercedita A. Sombilla said they are monitoring the stretching delays in the country’s rice imports, a result of the global shipping problem arising from lack of vessels and containers and Covid-19-related mobility restrictions.

“[Reasons for the delay is] more on the pandemic— loading of commodities in exporting countries are affected. What I gathered is that from three days loading it has become 10 days,” Sombilla told the BusinessMirror.

Shipping industry players confirmed to the BusinessMirror that they are observing delays in the arrival of imports from Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, the country’s top rice supplier.

“That is correct. Vietnam is showing delays too now,” Reefer Express Line Filipinas Inc. president and CEO Felix Ishizuka told the BusinessMirror.

International reports are also noting a mounting pressure on Vietnam’s logistics system with port operations, such as loading and unloading of goods, being affected by the rising Covid-19 outbreaks in Ho Chi Minh City that has spread to southern provinces as well.

A Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report has projected that the strain on Vietnam’s logistics system coupled by rising record-high sea freight and shortages of containers would lead to a plunge in exports this year from the world’s third biggest rice supplier.

Record local harvest

However, industry watchers and experts pointed out that the Philippines’s rice supply would not suffer any serious damage— or even the slightest impact— from Vietnam’s logistical problems as the country is on-track to hit record palay harvest this year.

“Even if the country’s imports dipped year-on-year and continue to slow down, it will not have a significant effect on the country’s overall rice supply since we have higher domestic harvest,” an industry source that regularly monitors the country’s grain situation told the BusinessMirror.

The country’s rice imports from January to July declined by 5 percent year-on-year to 1.43 million metric tons with 90 percent of the volume coming from Vietnam, latest Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) data showed.

Monetary Board member V. Bruce J. Tolentino explained that higher domestic palay harvest experienced by the country in the past two semesters led to the reduction of rice imports this year.

“Certainly the record harvests of [second half of] 2020 and [first of half] 2021 explain lower imports by the Philippines in [first half of] 2021,” he told the BusinessMirror.

“Shipping bottlenecks are primarily affecting trade between China and the West. Much less impact in [Southeast Asia]. [Shipping problems] may be constraining supplies from India. But the overwhelming factor [to the decline in imports] is recent record harvests,” he added.

An industry source added that Covid-19-related problems in exporting countries have slowed down rice exports to the Philippines, worsened by lower domestic staple demand as a result of unemployment and depletion of savings.

The Philippines saw a record palay harvest in the first half at 8.8 million metric tons, boosting confidence from government officials that the historic 20.4-million metric ton production target would be achieved this year.

“And barring bad weather, it looks like [second half of] 2021 will again be a new [harvest] record. This shows the impact of [Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund], particularly the productivity-enhancing aspects like seeds, mechanization, and extension,” Tolentino said.

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