Eyes on Africa, China strides into rice arena

Eyes on Africa, China strides into rice arena

Thai rice exporters are fretting over their prospects this year as China looks set to ramp up its rice shipments, notably to Africa.

China controls a massive rice supply of as much as 120 million tonnes and is likely to raise its rice shipments to 3 million tonnes of old grains this year from 1.5-2 million tonnes last year, said Chookiat Ophaswongse, honorary president of Thai Rice Exporters Association.

Africa is a potential target market for China now that consumers there are in the habit of eating old rice, he said.

China's 5% white rice is quoted at US$300 (9,370 baht) a tonne, while similar grains from Thailand are quoted at $390, those from Vietnam at $360 and those from India at $370.

"Chinese rice is very cheap compared with others," Mr Chookiat said. "More importantly, Thailand has run out of stocks of old rice."

Thai rice shipments totalled 11.09 million tonnes last year, down 5% from 11.67 million in 2017 but greater than 2016's 9.91 million.

Rice export value rose 8.3% last year to $5.61 billion from $5.18 billion in 2017 and $4.40 billion in 2016. Rice export prices averaged $507 a metric tonne last year, up 14.1% from 2017.

White rice made up 5.49 million tonnes (up 17.4% year-on-year), including parboiled rice of 2.71 million tonnes (down 19.9%), hom mali fragrant rice at 1.27 million tonnes (down 22.1%), white broken rice at 390,000 tonnes (down 0.7%), hom mali broken rice at 380,000 tonnes (down 43.2%), general fragrant rice at 260,000 tonnes (up 18.6%), broken glutinous rice at 200,000 tonnes (down 32.3%) and glutinous rice at 180,000 tonnes (down 15.7%).

For the whole of 2019, rice exporters forecast Thailand to ship 9.5 million tonnes, or 500,000 tonnes shy of the Commerce Ministry's outlook.

According to Mr Chookiat, China has continued to develop rice varieties with higher yields, meaning the country could expand its rice exports to other Asian countries in the future at relatively low prices.

"As long as China is capable of exporting its grains to Asia, especially to Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, Thailand's rice market will be hit the hardest," Mr Chookiat said.

He said the new government should promote development of new rice varieties and support more R&D to add value to Thai rice and reduce production costs for farmers.

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