A drop in Indian exports could help Thailand trim a record inventory, chalked up under a controversial rice-buying scheme. Thailand might also be able to reclaim its status as the world's biggest rice exporter, which it lost to India two years ago.
It will also leave more rice in Indian hands at a time when the country's stocks are bulging and it faces the prospect of a record harvest, creating problems of storage.
"We are almost out of the market now. Thailand and Vietnam are selling aggressively and it is difficult for Indian exporters to match those prices," B V Krishna Rao, managing directorat Pattabhi Agro Foods, India's biggest non-basmati riceexporter said.
"Thailand will again become the world's biggest rice exporter. Our non-basmati rice exports could drop to 4 million tonnes (mt)." India toppled Thailand in 2012 to become the world's biggest rice exporter, after the government lifted a four-year-old ban on non-basmati rice shipments in 2011 to trim a growing mountain of the grain following bountiful harvests.
In the 2013-14 financial year that ended on March 31, India's total rice exports stood at a record 10.5 mt, comprising four mt aromatic basmati rice and 6.5 mt of the non-basmati variety.
While India's shipments of the basmati variety are likely to remain steady in 2014-15 at around four mt, total rice exports could drop to eight mt due to the slide in exports of non-basmati rice, officials said.
Desperate for revenues, Thailand has this year been selling larger quantities of the grain from state warehouses at low prices to private traders. Thai-origin rice was offered at the lowest price in an international tender from Iraq's state grains buyer to purchase at least 30,000 tonnes, European traders said on Tuesday.
The push could boost Thailand's rice exports to nine mt in the 2014 calendar year from 6.7 million a year ago, according to a March report issued by a US Department of Agriculture attache in Thailand. India's exports in the 2014 calendar year are expected to be lower than that, industry executives said.
Thailand is now offering five per cent broken rice at $390 to $395 a tonne free-on-board basis, compared to India's offer price of $400.
The Southeast Asian nation usually charges a premium over Indian rice due to its longer grains "India and Thailand are quoting nearly the same price for five per cent broken rice. Thailand's prices need to go up by $40 a tonne to make Indian exports viable," said M Adishankar, executive directorat Sri Lalitha, a leading rice exporter based in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
Problem of plenty
Since the first week of February, Thailand has cut export prices of five per cent broken rice by nearly 12 per cent, compared with a two per cent drop in export prices from Vietnam, the world's second-biggest exporter.
Indian prices rose two per cent during the same period as the rupee strengthened. "For some grades Thailand has been offering discounts compared to Indian prices. Indian exporters can't lower prices substantially due to the appreciating rupee," said M P Jindal, president of the All India Rice Exporters Association.
A strong rupee cuts the returns of exporters. The Indian currency has risen nearly three per cent since the start of February. The imposition of a 110 per cent import duty on rice last year by Nigeria, a major importer of the grain from India, could further hamper exports from the South Asian country.
India mainly exports non-basmati rice to African countries such as Nigeria, Senegal and Benin, while Iran, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are key buyers of its basmati rice. "Shipments to Nigeria are hit due to the new duty structure," said Adishankar of Sri Lalitha.
Other African buyers are switching to Thailand as the government has been aggressively selling stocks from its warehouses, the exporters said. Slowing exports will add to India's problem of plenty in foodgrains. Rice inventories with India's state-run agencies have already jumped above 30 mt as on April 1, government data shows, against a target of 14.2 mt.
Moreover, the country is estimated to produce a record 106.19 mt rice in the year to July 2014. "Slowing exports mean more and more farmers will sell their crop to the government, but it doesn't have enough storage space," said a rice miller based in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh.