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India’s rice export ban brings chaos to Thai market

Surging demand sparks speculative hoarding, undercuts export opportunity

A farmer works in a rice paddy in Thailand’s central Khon Kaen province. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

BANGKOK — Rice trading in Thailand, the world’s second-largest rice exporter after India, has turned chaotic as India’s recent ban on rice exports touches off panic buying. Speculative hoarding is draining supply from the market, leaving less rice available for export.

Thailand’s domestic milled rice prices jumped nearly 20% last week to 21,000 baht ($597) per tonne, up from around 17,000 baht over the pervious few weeks.

That has pushed up the Thai export price for benchmark white rice 5% — which includes 5% broken rice — to $610 per tonne, reflecting the rise in global prices, which surged to an 11-year high. Although the Thai government has no plans to limit rice exports, Thai exporters are still reluctant to sell due to uncertainty over supplies.

Thailand normally produces around 20 million tons of milled rice, half of which is consumed domestically. The other half is typically exported.

“Thailand has never had tight supplies [up to now], as we have plenty of rice surplus every year,” Chookiat Ophaswongse, honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, told Nikkei Asia. “But this year, the Thai rice market is in chaos because exporters cannot offer any price quotations as they are concerned about price fluctuations and uncertainty about supply.”

India announced its rice export ban on July 20. The ban caused fears of falling stocks and encouraged major rice importers to seek rice from other key exporters, including Thailand and Vietnam.

Hoarding is expected to push Thai rice prices to uncompetitive levels and rob Thailand of a golden opportunity to export more, given India’s absence from the international market. Thai exporters are reluctant to commit to deals if cannot guarantee delivery at a price that matches earlier commitments. Doing so would inflict an immediate loss, said a trader at a Bangkok-based international trading house.

In addition to the price rises caused by hoarding, the El Nino dry weather pattern is likely to limit the harvest and prevent Thailand from exporting more rice this year and next. Thailand, due to its location, receives annual monsoon rains. It is also has extensive irrigation, allowing it to grow rice throughout the year.

However, El Nino is expected to result in less rainfall in September and October, when thirsty rice plants need to ample water. That may lower yields when the crop is brought to market in November. Moreover, lower rainfall due to El Nino will likely cut the water level at major reservoirs, which feed the irrigation system and are crucial to offseason planting.

Precise production estimates are not yet available, but the Ministry of Agriculture just forecast that Thailand’s 2023/24 crop (November-October) will be lower than expected.

Given tight supplies and hoarding, the Thai Rice Exporters Association maintained its 2023 export target at 8.5 million tonnes as the country is unlikely to be able to take advantage of India’s export ban.

https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Markets/Commodities/India-s-rice-export-ban-brings-chaos-to-Thai-market QR Code

Published Date: August 17, 2023

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