* Plans to import 600,000 T of rice soon amid low stocks
* To keep tariffs on private imports to protect farmers
* Vietnamese prices hit 13 month high on export hopes (Adds global prices, details)
By Ruma Paul
DHAKA, May 25 (Reuters) - Bangladesh will speed up plans to import rice to build reserves and rein in local prices after flash floods hit domestic output, government officials said on Thursday.
As part of that, a Bangladeshi delegation is now in Vietnam to finalise imports of the staple grain in a government-to-government deal, said a procurement official, declining to be identified as he was not authorised to speak with media. He did not give further details on the transaction.
Ramped up demand from Bangladesh, the world’s fourth-biggest rice producer, could underpin prices in major exporters Vietnam, Thailand and India.
“We are making frantic efforts to boost state reserves and bring down prices of rice,” said the procurement official.
Local rice prices have reached record highs and state reserves are at six-year lows in the wake of flooding in April that wiped out around 700,000 tonnes of output.
The state grains buyer earlier this month said it would ship in 600,000 tonnes of rice after the flooding, initially issuing two tenders for a total of 100,000 tonnes of rice, its first such tenders since 2011.
Meanwhile, the procurement official said the government had decided not to withdraw duty on private rice imports, looking to protect farmers.
Vietnamese rice prices this week hit their highest in over a year on expectations of strong demand from top importing countries such as Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Bangladesh wants to buy around 250,000 to 300,000 tonnes of Vietnam’s 5-percent white rice immediately and plans to increase rice imports from Vietnam to 500,000 tonnes by end of 2017, Vietnam’s trade ministry said.
Vietnam’s 5-percent broken rice RI-VNBKN5-P1 was quoted at $360-$380 a tonne FOB Saigon, up from $365-$370 last week and the highest since April last year, as suppliers eyed export deals, traders said.
Traders and officials say Bangladesh could emerge as a major importer of rice this year. It was ranked as the fourth-largest importer of the grain by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011.
Since then, the Bangladesh government has not imported rice although private traders have done, mostly from India.
Bangladesh produces around 34 million tonnes of rice annually but uses almost all its production to feed its population of 160 million. It often requires imports to cope with shortages caused by natural calamities such as floods and droughts.
Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Joseph Radford and Mark Potter