Global Markets: Rice – Burmese Exports Continue to Rise; Thai Prices Spike Upwards

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    With a spike in shipments thus far in 2017 and additional recent sales, Burma is now forecast to export 2.4 million tons in 2017, up fourfold from a decade ago. Burma’s exports have expanded rapidly, most notably to China.

    Burma’s competitive prices relative to China’s government supported prices have placed it in an advantageous position for border trade. Increased exports to China came at the expense of smaller shipments to West Africa, until a strong resurgence this year. Burma has also benefited from increased exports to the European Union under the Everything But Arms initiative.

    Furthermore, an MOU signed this month commits 300,000 tons to Bangladesh, which would be the largest exports to this neighboring country since 2008. Though Burma’s exports are forecast down slightly for 2018, they are expected to remain robust.

    Notably, these would be the largest exports for Burma in many decades. Yet both in terms of volume and market share, this is far below the exports recorded prior to World War II. At that time, Burma was consistently the world’s largest exporter of rice, supplying around 40 percent of global trade with India as the largest buyer.

    Now with global trade growing to a record 44 million tons in 2017, Burma’s export forecast only accounts for slightly more than 5 percent of global trade. Interestingly, India is no longer an importer but instead has taken the role as top exporter for the past 6 years.

    Thai jasmine rice prices have shot up 70 percent since April 2017. The primary demand shock has been an unusual sudden surge in purchases from Iran. Iran typically purchases basmati, an alternative and more expensive fragrant rice. In fact, in 2014, Iran purchased basmati rice at a price twice the amount of jasmine.

    However, this year when Indian basmati prices were once again double those of jasmine, Iran purchased more than 100,000 tons of jasmine. These purchases have coincided with tightness in the Thai market as a result of stocks declining to the lowest level since 2008, and with a new jasmine crop not available until November.

    Compounding these factors is the appreciation of the Thai baht, resulting in Thai jasmine prices reaching the highest level since 2014.

    The recent spike in Thai jasmine prices has reversed the trend of steady decrease over the past few years, slowly converging toward the price for non-fragrant rice. The government has encouraged fragrant rice production and supplemented the supply with the sale of stocks.

    Meanwhile, jasmine rice production has also been rising in neighboring countries such as Vietnam. However, Iran’s presence in the market has been and will continue to be a key factor in supporting Thai fragrant rice prices in the near future.

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