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Asia Rice-Prices fall on weak demand, Bangladesh steps up imports

HANOI/DHAKA, July 6 (Reuters) - Rice prices in the world’s top three exporters of the staple fell this week on weak demand, traders said on Thursday.

In Thailand, benchmark 5-percent broken rice RI-THBKN5-P1 was quoted at $420-$430 a tonne, free-on-board (FOB) Bangkok, down from $432-$440 a tonne last week.

Weak overseas demand and a falling baht have led traders to quote lower prices to attract buyers, traders said.

“Prices have gone down because the baht has weakened,” a trader in Bangkok said.

The mass exodus of migrant workers since June 23 following the introduction of new labour regulations by the Thai military government has also hit the Thai rice industry with labour shortages.

“The shortage of workers at warehouses and at the docks has led to delay in the loading of shipment and this has hurt exporters’ confidence in their ability to fulfil shipments,” said another Bangkok-based rice trader.

More than half of the labour force in the Thai rice industry are migrant workers from neighbouring Cambodia and about three quarters of this workforce have left the country, said Chookiat Ophaswongse, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association.

The Thai government has since delayed parts of the new labour law, but many migrant workers have yet to return.

“Thai exporters hesitate to take new order because of the labour shortage and many potential international buyers are thinking twice about buying Thai rice because of this uncertainty,” Chookiat said.

The labour shortage could raise the cost of production of Thai off-season crop, he said, which is expected to arrive from around August to September.

In Vietnam, the benchmark 5-percent broken rice RI-VNBKN5-P1 dropped to $405-$410 a tonne this week, FOB Saigon, down from $410-$415 last week. There were also concerns over the quality and production of the grain in the harvest period.

“Farmers said the production and quality of rice this time was not as good as usual due to earlier rainfall,” a trader in Ho Chi Minh City said, adding the exact impact had yet to be estimated.

Vietnam’s new harvest season has begun since late-June, traders said.

Thailand and Vietnam are the world’s second- and third-biggest rice exporters.

India's 5 percent broken parboiled rice prices RI-INBKN5-P1 eased by $2 per tonne to $419 to $422 on faltering demand from buyers in Africa.

“Demand from African countries was weak at higher levels. They are postponing purchases expecting price correction,” said an exporter based in Kakinada in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

“Even demand from Bangladesh is weak. It is not buying as much as industry was anticipating.”

India raised the minimum purchase price of common grade paddy rice by 5.4 percent to 1,550 rupees ($24.03) per 100 kg for the year starting July 1.

But Bangladesh said it was still stepping up imports due to depleted stocks and record local prices following flash floods.

A Bangladeshi delegation is now in Thailand to finalise imports of rice in a government-to-government deal, officials said.

“We don’t have any other option but to speed up imports,” said a senior food ministry official. “This time we won’t be able to achieve our local procurement target. We are going for state-to-state deals even if it is costlier, as importing via tenders is a lengthy process.”

Bangladesh is buying 200,000 tonnes of Vietnamese white rice at $430 a tonne and 50,000 tonnes of parboiled rice at $470 a tonne in a state-to-state deal - at rates much higher than in the previous three tenders.

It is also in talks with India, and private traders have started importing rice from the neighbour after the government cut import duties late last month.

Meanwhile, Philippines’ state grains buyer on Thursday also issued an international tender to buy 250,000 tonnes of 25 percent broken long grain white rice, rushing to boost thinning government stockpile.

Reporting by My Pham in HANOI, Panu Wongcha-um in BANGKOK, Ruma Paul in DHAKA, Rajendra Jadhav in MUMBAI; Editing by Biju Dwarakanath