Thailand's rice exports are expected to exceed 8 million tonnes this year, driven by the weakness of the baht and rising demand in the global market, according to veteran trader Chookiat Ophaswongse.
Mr Chookiat, an honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said Thai rice shipments reached 1.5 million tonnes in the first two months of this year, compared with 900,000 tonnes in the same period of 2021.
"If Thailand can ship an average of 700,000 tonnes a month, the total export volume will likely be at least 8 million tonnes this year, well over the 7 million tonnes the association forecast," he said. "Export values are estimated at 130 billion baht, up from 110 billion last year."
Mr Chookiat said Thai rice export prices are now competitive as the baht weakens, partially because of the ongoing war. Thai rice prices are now close to those of Vietnamese grains, he said.
The free-on-board price of 5% Thai white rice is now quoted at US$420, the same rate as Vietnamese rice. The price is $20 higher than the $400 a tonne recorded at the beginning of this month.
"Any time Thai rice is priced equally with grains from Vietnam, importers in Asian countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia and China buy Thai rice," said Mr Chookiat. "More importantly, the export market in the Middle East, such as Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, is back this year."
He said given Covid-19 outbreaks in Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as the lockdown in Shenzhen, China, consumers are buying more Thai rice in supermarkets to stock up. The war has had a knock-on effect for Thai rice prices, rising slightly because of higher prices for wheat and corn, said Mr Chookiat.
"We expect Thai rice prices to increase by 5% or $20 a tonne in the second quarter this year," he said.
The projected uptick is modest because there are relatively high stocks in India, while rice production is expected to gain this year both in Vietnam and Thailand, said Mr Chookiat.
For the 2021/2022 harvest season, the association expects Thailand's rice output to increase to 30-32 million tonnes of paddy rice.