MANILA (Commodity Online) : National Food Authority (NFA) of the Philippines said it will allow private firms to import 163,000 tons of rice this year.

With this the total imports by the world's biggest buyer for 2010 to a new record high of over 2.4 million tons, the state-run food agency said in a statement.

The allocation of the private sector this year, lower than the state grain agency's initial estimate of 200,000 tons, may still be increased depending on their requirements and it can be increased depending on the need, said the statement.

The private sector brought in 200,000 tons rice last year.

The NFA said in a note it has given the allocation to farmers' organizations and other private sector importers, with delivery of the grain scheduled no later than Aug. 15.

The country purchased 2.27 million tons of rice from four tenders last year, including re-orders, with bulk of them from Vietnam.

Including the private sector import volume, the Philippines' rice purchases for its 2010 supply would reach 2.44 million tons, exceeding the previous record of 2.3 million tons in 2008, which helped drive grain prices to all-time highs.

NFA has the sole authority to import rice in the country, but it has permitted private firms to bring in the grain since 2002 to curb smuggling.

For this year's allocation, NFA said private importers can source up to 98,000 tons from Thailand, 25,000 tons from China, 25,000 tons from India and 15,000 tons from Australia.

Philippines's Agriculture ministry said the government had bought enough rice for 2010, suggesting Manila may be out of the market for now.