The leader of the world's largest rice exporter, Thailand, has promised to provide supplies to the Philippines as it struggles to plug a domestic shortfall in the staple grain, a Philippine official said yesterday.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo thanked Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej during talks at the presidential palace on Thursday — the first day of the Thai leader’s two-day visit to the Philippines, Philippine Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said.
“The prime minister said he is extending the hand of friendship,” Yap said.
Should the Philippines need rice, Thailand is willing to supply,” Yap told reporters.
Samak and Yap toured a Manila wet market early yesterday, surprising vendors and residents at the sight of a Thai prime minister — a celebrity chef back home — picking through tomatoes, onions and mushrooms.
He ended up buying groceries — including tiger prawns and pork — for lunch he’s cooking for the Thai embassy staff.
Playing down any fears of a food crisis, Samak told reporters: “There is no shortage in Asia.”
“It seems this country has enough rice. Don’t worry,” he said in brief remarks.
He planned to hold separate talks yesterday with officials from the International Rice Research Institute, which has been developing rice varieties to increase production and withstand drought or floods to help farmers across the world.
Rice prices in Asia have tripled this year, while US rice futures have fallen by about 20 percent over the last month. Prices have been lifted by growing demand, rising fuel prices, cuts in agriculture funding, increasing use of food crops for biofuels, financial speculation and bad weather.
Samak said Thailand would supply rice to the Philippines “in the spirit of ASEAN brotherhood.”
Thailand and the Philippines — the world’s top rice importer — are partners in ASEAN, along with Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam.
The Philippines says it has contracted for 1.5 million tonnes of rice to fill a 10 percent domestic production gap this year and wants to buy an additional 612,350 tonnes as buffer stocks for the last quarter of the year.
The government has secured contracts with Vietnam for up to 1.36 million tonnes and Japan for 181,400 tonnes.
Yap said no specific volumes and amounts were discussed during Arroyo’s talks with Samak.