With the country’s monthly rice exports increasing for the fifth month in a row in October, Thailand is on track to restore its position as the world’s second-largest rice exporter in 2021. According to the Ministry of Commerce, the country’s October exports totaled 773,823 metric tonnes (mt). This is up 74% for the year and is by far the highest monthly total since January 2019. The increase pushes Thai exports to 4.59 million mt in January-October 2021, which is higher than the same month last year. Vietnam is the only country that stands in Thailand’s path of being the world’s second-largest exporter by 2020.
India remains in the top spot. With exports totaling 16.3 million mt from January to September and the country on track to represent about two-fifths of global rice exports in 2021, no country will be able to challenge India’s dominance as the world’s top rice exporter.
Despite the country’s rigorous regional lockdown during August-September, Vietnam Customs reports that the country’s January-October exports are still roughly 592,000 mt ahead of Thailand’s. It can be anticipated that Vietnam will keep its position as the world’s second-largest exporter in 2021, however, Thailand’s shipments have exploded in recent months. The country’s exports fell to an all-time low of 302,669 mt in March, but have subsequently risen by more than 150 percent to match the level seen in October.
Several sources have also constantly claimed that the government of Vietnam’s major client, the Philippines, has been blocking purchasers’ access to phytosanitary permits, which are required to import. Although it is late in the year, this might still be a hindrance to December shipments from Ho Chi Minh City.
Thailand’s revival as a significant exporter in recent months has been mostly due to its return to price competitiveness. S&P Global Platts valued Thai 5 percent broken white rice at as much as a $137/mt premium over its Indian counterpart in February this year. However, a drop in Thai price following increased supply meant that the two goods were practically neck-and-neck for much of July-October.
Prices of Hom Mali and Pathumthani Fragrant varieties of Thai rice have dropped significantly in recent months, boosting demand for Thai rice. While a $20-$30/mt premium for Thai white rice has appeared in recent weeks, many buyers are still prepared to purchase because of the perceived superior quality of Thai rice and the better reputation of its exporters.
As a result, many cost-conscious West Africans have returned to Thailand in search of fragrant, white, and parboiled rice. Benin and Cote d’Ivoire were Thailand’s top two export destinations in October, despite being mostly missing from the Thai market earlier in the year.
China, the world’s top rice consumer, has been on a purchasing binge. According to customs data, imports totaled 3.58 million mt from January to September, more than double the 1.68 million mt imported during the same period in 2020. This number does not include Thailand, which has nearly doubled its shipments to China so far this year, making China Thailand’s third-largest export market.
Aside from China, Thai exports have benefited from unusual demand from other countries in recent months. The most notable development is Iraq’s return to the Thai market after a seven-year break, with the nation taking 180,885 mt of Thai rice in 2021, according to Ministry of Commerce data. The main reason for the increase in demand is because Iraq’s government handed over rice sourcing to a business named Al-Owais earlier this year, which was considerably more receptive to rice from outside of the Americas.
In addition, neighboring Iran has been looking for big quantities of Thai white rice in recent weeks, with shipments due in December and January. While most sources agree that a contract for at least 60,000 mt has been struck, others feel that the final verified amount might be more than double that provided purchasers can arrange the necessary payments.