Myanmar eyes surge in rice exports
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Myanmar eyes surge in rice exports

Indian export curbs, high prices of regional rivals have buyers looking for alternatives

A labourer unloads sacks of rice from a ship along a jetty in Yangon on June 28 this year. (Photo: AFP)
A labourer unloads sacks of rice from a ship along a jetty in Yangon on June 28 this year. (Photo: AFP)

Myanmar expects its rice exports to surge in coming months as curbs on Indian sales and a spike in Thai and Vietnamese prices force buyers to seek other supply sources.

The tightening in global supply should help revive Myanmar’s rice shipments, which slumped 56% in the first four months of the fiscal year, and bring it closer to its annual goal of earning $1 billion from exports of the grain, said Ye Min Aung, president of the Myanmar Rice Federation.

Myanmar exported about 320,000 tonnes of Rice from April to July, earning just $138 million, according to data from the federation, after the government decided to prioritise selling higher-grade rice. But prospects improved last month when India, the world’s top exporter, banned a substantial portion of its overseas sales to keep a lid on domestic prices ahead of a general election due early next year.

The Indian curbs have pushed up the prices of rice from some of Myanmar’s regional competitors to 15-year highs.

“We hope to take advantage, even though we’ll maintain our focus on exporting only higher-quality varieties,” Ye Min Aung said. 

Myanmar is troubled by food insecurity, a situation worsened by political instability and economic distress since the military coup in 2021, and its export policy is designed to conserve domestic supplies.

While sales of better-quality rice can fetch as much as $700 a tonne compared to $300 or $400 for lower grades, according to Ye Min Aung, it also limits customers to relatively wealthy countries.

Myanmar earned over $800 million from rice sales in each of the two previous fiscal years, according to the federation. Its biggest buyers include China, the Philippines and Belgium. The US Department of Agriculture ranked it as the world’s sixth-biggest exporter last year. 

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