Typhoons could force Philippines to import 2 mln T of rice next yr
* Rice imports of 2 mln T would mark largest in 4 yrs
* Vietnam, Thailand likely to compete to offer extra rice
* SuperTyphoon Haiyan devastated central Philippines on Nov. 8
MANILA/SINGAPORE, Nov 28 (Reuters) - The Philippines, one of the world's top rice consumers, may need to import as much as 2 million tonnes of the grain in 2014 as it looks set to miss self-sufficiency targets in the wake of SuperTyphoon Haiyan and another strong typhoon, traders and farming experts said.
That would mark the largest rice imports in four years by the Southeast Asian country, the world's biggest buyer in 2010 when it purchased a national record of 2.45 million tonnes.
Higher demand from the Philippines is unlikely to have a huge impact on global rice prices as world production is forecast to exceed consumption next year. But Vietnam, traditionally the country's main supplier, and Thailand, which is sitting on record-high stocks, are expected to duke it out in bidding to supply Manila.
Just last month, Philippine farm officials were still optimistic about rice production, announcing an estimated 2.2 million tonnes of year-end stock inventory that would have helped minimise imports in line with its goal of becoming fully self-sufficient in rice by 2014.
But this week it had to seek bids from three neigbours - Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia - for the emergency supply of 500,000 tonnes to boost government stocks depleted by relief operations after Haiyan devastated the central Philippines on Nov. 8
Vietnam, the world's second-biggest rice exporter after India last year, bagged the government-to-government deal after offering the lowest price at a tender on Tuesday.
Prices of Vietnamese rice rose on Wednesday, with 5-percent broken rice nearing a one-year peak.
The Philippines is keeping the door open for additional imports while waiting for the harvest from the first quarter crop of 2014, according to state grains agency the National Food Authority (NFA).
NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag remains hopeful imports will be minimal next year. But he said the private sector would be allowed to bring in as much as 350,000 tonnes of rice in 2014 with a 40 percent duty under a commitment with the World Trade Organisation.
Total imports approved this year by the NFA have hit 705,000 tonnes, including the latest emergency purchase. Before Haiayan struck it had been looking to limit 2013 imports to 350,000 tonnes.
FARM INFRASTRUCTURE A CONCERN
Traders and farm experts expect Philippine rice imports next year to range from 700,000 tonnes to 2 million tonnes.
"We are looking at anything between 1.5 to 2.0 million tonnes of imports in 2014 but it is hard to put a number on it just yet," said a Bangkok-based trader.
"They will definitely need more rice after the typhoon damage," the trader added. "The WFP (World Food Programme) is coming up with a tender to supply rice as aid to the Philippines."
The WFP said it had reached an agreement with the NFA to make 10,000 tonnes of rice available for the aid agency's Haiyan relief operations.
The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has predicted Philippine rice imports next year of 1.2 million tonnes, revising its earlier forecast of 900,000 tonnes.
The Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute, which helped the Department of Agriculture assess the crop losses, said that damage to farm infrastructure is a bigger concern than crop losses.
"The most serious issues will arise from extensive losses resulting from the storm surge - in farm machinery, storage, housing and damage to roads and irrigation," said Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general for communication.
A London-based trader said it is far too early to put a figure on the Philippines' rice imports next year.
"We will know more about their import requirements in 2014 by the end of December when the planting is over and we have some idea about the crop."
The Philippines' paddy rice output in the entire year will likely be below a government forecast of 18.58 million tonnes, made before Haiyan struck. That prediction was already 9 percent lower than the government's target of 20.4 million tonnes set under its rice self-sufficiency programme.
Because of Haiyan and Typhoon Nari, which hit major rice-producing regions in the northern Philippines in October, the FAO cut its 2013 aggregate rice paddy output forecast - including the main 2013 season and the 2013/14 secondary season - to 18 million tonnes from previous estimates of a bumper crop of 18.9 million tonnes.
The Rome-based FAO expects world rice production in 2013/14 to rise 0.9 percent to 494.1 million tonnes. Total consumption is seen up 2.6 percent at 489.0 million tonnes.
On Wednesday, the FAO said more than $11 million is needed to help clean and clear agricultural land and de-silt irrigation canals in the aftermath of Haiyan, which killed 5,500 people according to the latest government tally.
That is in addition to the $20 million it already requested to help farmers fertilise, irrigate and maintain their crops to ensure harvests in 2014.
"We were previously projecting a 4 to 5 percent growth in production, but now it looks like it is flat for this year," said economist Roehlano Briones of the government think-tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies.
"So we're way off the projection while our population continues to grow."
He said a 2-million-tonnes volume is a reasonable estimate for the maximum import requirement next year, especially for a country visited by an average of about 20 typhoons each year.
To plug the looming deficit, he said the Philippines should initially import at least 800,000 tonnes. "It depends on the severity of weather disturbances."
Missed production targets and typhoons that have become stronger should prompt the government to abandon hopes for 100-percent rice self sufficiency, he said.
"There's no shame in withdrawing from an unrealistic policy. The government must have a more liberal policy on rice importation," he said, warning that smuggling was a growing concern.
(Additional reporting by Ho Binh Minh in Hanoi; Editing by Joseph Radford)