Philippines plans to import 22,000 tonnes of onions after price surge

The South-east Asian nation consumes around 17,000 tonnes of onions a month, Mr Estoperez said. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

MANILA – The Philippines’ agriculture department is planning to import 22,000 tonnes of onions to boost domestic supply as surging prices of the commodity contributed to inflation at a 14-year high.

The import proposal was arrived at during a meeting of the department’s executive committee and will be recommended to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr for approval, its assistant secretary Rex Estoperez said in a phone interview on Sunday. Mr Marcos is also the agriculture secretary.

The proposed purchase “will be good for a month and to pull down prices,” Mr Estoperez said. “We can’t sit idly because one of the drivers of inflation is the price of onions.”

The purchase would be a “temporary solution” and there are no further plans to import for now, he said.

The South-east Asian nation consumes around 17,000 tonnes of onions a month, Mr Estoperez said.

The agriculture department expects the planned imports, once approved, would arrive no later than the first week of February, he said.

Red onions were selling for as much as 650 pesos (S$15.70) a kilogram in the Philippines and the white variety was priced as high as 600 pesos, about three times the price of chicken and around 25 per cent costlier than beef, based on the retail prices of farm commodities monitored by the agriculture department as of Jan 5.

Onions are key ingredient in Filipino cuisine which most households use along with garlic. The price spike hit consumers particularly hard during the year-end holidays with food taking centre-stage in many gatherings, prompting more than a few to air their rants on social media.

A drop in local output helped lift onion prices, said Estoperez. Onions contributed 0.3 percentage points to the Philippines’ overall inflation, the same as rice, National Statistician Dennis Mapa said in a briefing last week. Consumer prices in December rose 8.1 per cent, reaching a 14-year high, from 8 per cent the previous month.

Half of the planned imports will be distributed to the main island of Luzon and the remaining will be shipped to Visayas and Mindanao, Mr Estoperez said.

While domestic harvests are continuing, the output is only expected to peak in the March-to-May period, resulting in the need to augment supply, he said. BLOOMBERG

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