Rice forecast remains robust
Despite lingering concerns about the baht, the government remains upbeat about Thai rice export prospects, particularly for premium hom mali rice bound for Hong Kong, where the government expects shipments to rise to 215,000 tonnes this year.
Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong said Thailand last year shipped 206,153 tonnes of hom mali fragrant jasmine rice to Hong Kong, up from 187,092 tonnes in 2016.
"Last year was the first time Thailand's hom mali rice shipments to Hong Kong exceeded 200,000 tonnes since 2007, when 202,858 tonnes were shipped," he said.
Mr Sontirat largely credited collaborative efforts between the government and private sector, including millers, exporters and farmers, to maintain rice quality and expand markets for new premium hom mali grains such as organic rice and riceberry.
Hong Kong is the third-largest rice export market for Thai hom mali rice, after China and the US.
"This year, although the price of hom mali rice should stay relatively high at over US$1,000 (33,000 baht) a tonne, demand remains strong in Hong Kong, where people generally love [the product]," Mr Sontirat said. "The ministry expects shipments to Hong Kong to continue growing this year."
The Commerce Ministry reported that hom mali rice shipments fetched the country 42 billion baht last year, with the US accounting for 28%, China 15%, Hong Kong 11%, Iran 6% and Canada 5%.
Meanwhile, Deputy Commerce Minister Chutima Bunyaphasara yesterday said overall rice exports still look promising.
As of Feb 6, Thailand had shipped over 1 million tonnes of milled rice with prices of $422-470 a tonne.
The Commerce Ministry forecasts rice exports to stay at 9.5 million tonnes of milled rice this year, easing from a record high of 11.6 million tonnes in 2017, with average prices of $370-450 a tonne.
But rice exporters have recently voiced concerns about the strong baht, saying earlier projections of 9.5 million tonnes may be hard to achieve.
Charoen Laothammatas, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said that in light of the baht's strength, most exporters are opting to avoid selling rice for fear of foreign exchange losses. This will eventually affect farmers' income as exporters delay their purchases.
The Agriculture Ministry forecasts rice production for the 2018 season of 30 million tonnes of paddy rice and 22-23 million tonnes of milled rice, similar to last season.