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Philippines to import rice through 2020 despite rising output - minister

MANILA, June 19 (Reuters) - The Philippines' paddy rice output is expected to rise to meet 95-96 percent of the country's annual requirement by 2020, from 93 percent last year, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said on Tuesday.

The latest forecast misses Piñol's own target for the Philippines to be self-suffient in rice production by 2020, but is in line with comments last week by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Piñol said this year's paddy rice harvest is likely to exceed the 2017 record-high level of 19.3 million tonnes, taking into account the 4.6 percent improvement in first-quarter output from a year ago.

The Southeast Asian nation is a frequent buyer of rice, mainly from Vietnam and Thailand, usually importing more than a million tonnes of the staple grain each year to meet domestic demand and maintain stockpiles.

The region's second most heavily populated nation after Indonesia with about 105 million people, the Philippines consumes roughly 11.7 million tonnes of rice every year.

The country limits private rice imports to protect its farmers, buying up to 805,200 tonnes of rice with a 35 percent import tariff, under an annual quota scheme covered by a World Trade Organisation deal.

The state grains stockpiling agency, the National Food Authority, also buys rice free of tariffs.

Recent rice shortages have pushed up domestic prices and put pressure on inflation.

Duterte's economic team has suggested restrictions on the volume of imports should be scrapped in favour of a scheme where all imports are subject to the tariff, which could push up private imports during poor harvests.

(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; editing by Richard Pullin)

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