The Philippines, one of the world’s top rice buyers, has given private importers about a month to purchase an additional 1 million metric tons of rice to boost domestic supply until the next harvest in March.

“I’ve told them that if they don’t import the volume within 30 days, I will cancel the import permits because I don’t want to be held hostage by permits that were issued to them upon their request,” Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. said in a statement released on Tuesday, referring to the private rice importers. 

Laurel, who took over the agriculture post from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. this month, made the comments during a committee hearing at the House of Representatives on Monday.

The agriculture department expects rice imports this year to reach 2.86 million metric tons, down 1 million metric tons from last year, barring any further imports in coming weeks, the statement said. It reiterated that domestic rough rice output is forecast to hit more than 20 million metric tons this year compared with 19.76 million metric tons in 2022.  

The Southeast Asian country currently has a rice surplus of 2.98 million metric tons, or enough to last 80 days and more imports would stretch supply through the next harvest season, the agency said.

Marcos imposed a month-long cap on domestic rice prices in September following a spike in the cost of the national staple which he blamed on hoarding and smuggling, and which pushed Philippine rice inflation to a 14-year high.