DHAKA, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Bangladesh will import 250,000 tonnes of white rice at $453.00 a tonne from Cambodia in a government-to-government deal, two food ministry officials said on Wednesday, more expensive than a previous deal.
Rice is a staple food for Bangladesh’s 160 million people and high prices pose a problem for the government which faces a national election next year.
The country produces around 34 million tonnes of rice annually but uses almost all its production to feed its population, and often requires imports to cope with shortages caused by floods or droughts.
The government is building buffer stocks to combat high domestic prices after flash floods in April wiped away around 1 million tonnes of rice output, with ongoing floods, more severe, set to destroy more.
“The proposal to import rice from Cambodia is currently awaiting approval,” one of the officials said.
Bangladesh, the world’s fourth-biggest rice producer, has emerged as a major importer of the staple grain, with the government seeking to import as much as 1.5 million tonnes in the year to June.
Early this month, the government agreed to buy 1 million tonnes of rice from Cambodia, its first-ever deal with the country, over the next five years.
It has so far imported 200,000 tonnes of white rice at $430 a tonne and 50,000 tonnes of parboiled rice at $470 a tonne from Vietnam in a state-to-state deal at rates much higher than in tenders.
Growing demand from Bangladesh could help stoke Asian rice prices that hit multi-year highs in June.
The state grains buyer is issuing a series of tenders after its initial talks with Thailand and India suffered a setback over high prices.
The government is also in talks with Myanmar to import rice, while it is engaged in a second round of discussions with Thailand and India.
Although it slashed the duty on rice imports last week to 2 percent from 10 percent, the second cut in less than two months, rice prices have dropped only slightly.
Bangladesh also needs to import sizeable quantities of wheat after floods damaged its crops, but tough state purchasing conditions and slow ship unloading in ports mean trading houses are unwilling to sell the grain. (Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Biju Dwarakanath)