* Initial crop losses from typhoon seen at around 20,000 T
* NFA releasing more stocks into typhoon-hit areas
* Fresh Philippine demand could support Asia rice prices (Adds comments from NFA chief)
MANILA, Dec 8 (Reuters) - The Philippines’ state grains agency said on Monday it will consider importing up to an additional 600,000 tonnes of rice to boost buffer stocks after Typhoon Hagupit damaged crops and prompted the release of emergency supplies.
Crop losses this quarter from bad weather and a projected drop in first-quarter output next year have put the Philippines, one of the world’s biggest rice buyers, under pressure to boost imports in order to maintain a healthy buffer stock in 2015.
Fresh demand from the Philippines could support softening rice export prices in main suppliers Thailand and Vietnam.
A team at the National Food Authority (NFA) has recommended that a standing order to import 500,000 tonnes of rice in case of a natural disater should be increased by 100,000 tonnes, NFA Administrator Renan Dalisay told Reuters.
“We’re seeking a meeting of the NFA Council to discuss the recommendation of the group in charge of computing our requirements,” Dalisay said.
The review would be carried out by a panel of Cabinet members, chaired by Food Security Secretary Francis Pangilinan.
The Department of Agriculture said initial reports showed nearly 20,000 tonnes of unmilled rice from standing crops had been damaged by strong winds and rains from Hagupit, which battered the Philippines over the weekend.
Dalisay said it was too early to give a timetable for any rice purchases or to say whether they would be made through tenders or government-to-government deals.
The NFA bought more than 1.8 million tonnes from Vietnam and Thailand over the past 12 months, aggressively shoring up its buffer stocks while releasing more rice into local markets to bring down retail prices that hit record highs in recent months.
The agency was forced to import more, bringing in the biggest annual volume in four years, after its stocks were almost depleted due to relief efforts and crop losses following category-5 Super Typhoon Haiyan’ wrath in November 2013.
Dalisay said the NFA began releasing more rice stocks from its warehouses last week to boost supply in areas expected to be hit by Hagupit, including Samar island provinces where the typhoon first hit on Saturday.
The agency expects to release more stocks, with a number of local government officials in areas hit by the typhoon seeking additional NFA supply, he said.
Any new shipments will be tariff-free and on top of an annual volume of up to 805,200 tonnes that the private sector can bring in. The annual volume attracts a tariff of 35 percent.
Reporting by Erik dela Cruz; Editing by Sunil Nair and Richard Pullin