Chinese demand, supply shifting global rice trade dynamics

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The convergence of China’s rice import and export quantities is shifting global rice trade dynamics, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its latest monthly report.

Only 10 years ago, China played a minor role in rice trade, largely self-sufficient as the top global producer and consumer. However, its domestic support for rice farmers grew with steadily climbing minimum purchase prices for paddy rice translating into high milled prices for consumers, the report said.

As global exporter prices softened in 2011, China quickly grew in prominence as a major buyer and has been the top importer since 2013.

“Key suppliers have been neighbours Vietnam and Burma, while Thailand and Cambodia have also played significant roles. Recent changes to the tariff definitions affecting glutinous rice and efforts to formalize trade and establish quotas with Cambodia and Burma have also shifted trade patterns,” the report pointed out.

Another recent development has been the auctions of government stocks. As the minimum purchase prices rose, so did government purchases and the volume of the temporary reserves.

“Rice stocks have risen to record levels, and auctions from the reserves have stepped up recently. Over 7 million tons of stocks were sold from government reserves each of the past 2 years, with May 2019 sales alone surpassing 1.5 million tons,” the report said.

Though the minimum purchase price remains relatively high, these auctions augment the amount of low-priced rice available to consumers, it added.

According to the USDA, since 2017, exports of low-priced rice have soared. Initially, medium-grain export prices fell, making Chinese rice competitive in West Africa and the Mediterranean, while declines in long-grain export prices continue to expand the reach in Africa and beyond.

China’s emergence in the medium-grain market was timely as both Australia and Egypt have shifted from net exporters to net importers, paving the way for China to fill the gap, the report said, adding that in fact, Egypt has been voraciously tendering for Chinese rice.

Likewise, the bulk of exports to Africa have filled the demand for old crop long-grain rice as Thailand’s government reserves have been depleted.

“China’s suppliers are struggling to diversify to other markets, only to find themselves in competition with China abroad. The main impact has been in Asia and Africa, but the repercussions have been felt even in the United States where multiple shipments of low-priced medium-grain rice have arrived in Puerto Rico,” the report pointed out.

Meanwhile, exports continue unabated, with April 2019 exports the highest monthly quantity since 2000. For 2020, China is forecast to export just slightly less than its 1998 record to become the fifth-largest exporter, exceeding the United States, the report said.

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