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Rice market: Patterns of Thailand, Vietnam exports

/ 04:59 AM April 08, 2019

2018 was an exacting time in the Philippines. There was a rice “crisis.” The government buffer stock agency—the National Food Authority (NFA)—failed in its mandate to import and buy palay. Its rice inventory as early as July 2017 was already nil. Inflation ensued in 2018. The government inflation target of 2 to 4 percent was breached. For the poor, where rice is a large part of household budget, it was a miserable year.

As a result of the crisis, the NFA was transferred to the Department of Agriculture from the Office of the President. The Rice Tariffication Act was passed with rice tariff from Asean set at 35 percent. Hopefully, rice price inflation will be tamed.

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Meanwhile, the Asian rice market was relatively stable with prices of various white rice grades hovering around $395 to $400 per ton, f.o.b. Thailand.

There are perennial fears from local quarters that since the world surplus is small, the Philippines must strive for self-sufficiency.

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The world rice market has been in the order of 45 million tons a year, or about 9 percent of global rice production. It has been dominated by a few countries. There are about 12 countries exporting 500,000 tons a year or more. The key players are India, Thailand, Vietnam, the United States, Pakistan, Myanmar, Cambodia and China, all selling over 1 million tons.

Asean countries, specifically Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia, supply about half (23 million tons) to the world market (USDA). Interestingly, other Asean nations—the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia—import about four million tons, or a third of the Asean surplus. Asean exported some 6 million tons to Africa. China is a net importer of about 2.8 million tons in 2017.

The Philippines, as part of the Asean rice stock facility, is safe from future supply volatility, allaying fears from the pessimists. This facility is covered by the Asean Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve agreement.

Thai exports are highly diversified. They are mostly white rice (10 percent brokens or less), hom mali and parboiled compared to mostly 25 percent broken rice in the Philippines. The low-priced 25-35 percent broken and other rice accounted for 15 percent, high-grade for 37 percent and parboiled for 25 percent. Note: Parboiled rice has been partially boiled in the husk. Parboiled white rice is 80 percent nutritionally similar to brown rice.

Meanwhile, Vietnam in early 2018 exported more high-grade white rice, jasmine and glutinous (nearly 80 percent). There was very little low-grade rice (25 percent broken).

What do the shifts to higher grades and fancy varieties mean?

First, the rice exporters are upgrading their mills to produce high-priced grades.

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Second, the diversification to high value rice like Thai hom mali and Vietnam jasmine means higher margins for farmers and better export prices.

Third, the Philippines cannot continue to pursue importing low-grade rice. Supply is getting scarce. Insisting on lower grades means that Thai or Vietnamese suppliers will mix higher grades with broken rice entailing added costs. And the price differentials with higher grades do not appear significant. Filipino consumers are willing to pay a little more (less than P1 per kilo) for better quality rice.

As of early January 2019, Thai export prices (spot) were at $1,194 per ton (100 percent) for hom mali, $777 per ton for jasmine, $410 per ton for white rice (five percent broken) and $402 per ton for white rice (25 percent broken). Vietnam rice has a discount of about two to three percent.

Fourth, the Philippines can be a niche exporter of high-priced heirloom rice like the Cordillera red rice, Mindanao black rice and SL premium rice.

Finally, the fear of massive price surges in the world market due to “thin” surplus is unfounded. The Asean has huge surplus to address Philippine supply shortages.

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