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Myanmar rice exports double on African buying

world Updated: Feb 12, 2009 11:08 IST
Naveen Thukral
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Myanmar's rice exports have nearly doubled, to around 400,000 tonnes since January, as the country has stepped up sales on competitive prices and strong demand from Africa, regional traders said on Thursday.

Myanmar is selling 25 percent broken rice at $270-$280 per tonne free on board (FOB), compared with $348-$353 quoted for a similar Vietnamese variety.

"The quality is an issue but African buyers don't mind as long as they get the best price," said a Singapore-based trader. "We expect very good sales from Myanmar this year."

The country's rice exports fell last year when Cyclone Nargis struck in May, and the generals in army-ruled Myanmar banned exports to preserve stocks.

Officials say the ban was eased from July and government data shows Myanmar exported 127,600 tonnes in the first seven months of the fiscal year, from April to October 2008. Around 101,000 tonnes was sold in April, before the cyclone.

Traders in Singapore said Myanmar was likely to sell 700,000-800,000 tonnes of rice in the coming months after a bumper harvest.

"They are the cheapest in the world for inferior quality of rice," said another rice dealer trader with a global trading firm in Singapore. "There are some constraints at the port, and mills are not geared to handle large quantities, but they should be able to contract 700,000 to 800,000 tonnes."

Traders said Europe's Louis Dreyfus was active in the region, trading 6 to 7 cargoes of around 20,000 tonnes each.

Media reports in Yangon in November estimated a surplus of up to 3 million tonnes of rice for 2009 shipment to world markets.

Myanmar could benefit after much higher prices in top exporters Thailand and Vietnam forced buyers to look for cheaper alternatives, especially price-sensitive African importers.

The price of benchmark Thai 100 percent B grade white rice fell to $580 per tonne from $590 last week, as buyers, particularly Africans, who have been the most active recently, pulled back. [ID:nBKK165193]

Thai rice prices trebled to hit a record peak of $1,080 a tonne last May, when governments and importers rushed to stock up on fears the food staple would be in short supply amid high domestic inflation.

Rice from Myanmar is generally of inferior quality because of poor milling. The main buyers are Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and African countries.