Indian rice exports in 2020/21 may surge 15% as buyers stockpile grain

* Indian rice cheaper than supplies from rivals

* Huge inventory, weak rupee gives India an edge

* Importers build stocks amid coronavirus outbreak

MUMBAI, May 22 (Reuters) - India’s rice exports could rise by as much as 15% in 2020/21 as buyers purchase lower-priced Indian supply to rebuild inventories after growers capped exports amid the coronavirius outbreak, two industry officials said on Friday.

These are among the first forecasts for rice exports during the new fiscal year that began on April 1. Higher shipments from India, the world’s biggest rice exporter, could cap global prices and help New Delhi in reducing bulging inventories.

“There is a surge in demand for Indian rice right now and we are expecting demand to continue for some more time,” Nitin Gupta, vice president for Olam India’s rice business, said.

India’s rice exports were 9 million tonnes during the 2019/20 fiscal year, the lowest in eight years, government data showed.

Demand has improved as Indian rice has become competitive after the rupee dropped to a record low, said B.V. Krishna Rao, president of India’s Rice Exporters Association.

That puts Indian rice at a discount to supplies from competing countries and this has prompted African countries and Asian buyers such as Malaysia and Philippines to make purchases, Rao said.

Indian rice RI-INBKN5-P1 was quoted between $385 to $389 per tonne this week, while shipments from Thailand, the second- biggest exporter, were quoted at $480 to $505.

Malaysia has contracted to import a record 100,000 tonnes of rice from India for shipment this month and next.

Except India, other key exporters such as Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia have limited surplus for exports, said Himanshu Agarwal, executive director at Satyam Balajee, India’s biggest rice exporter.

“There is no cap on Indian exports. Only India can fulfil the large requirements of importing countries,” Agarwal said.

Vietnam, the third-largest rice supplier, fully resumed exports this month, after halting sales from late March and limiting supply in April to make sure it has sufficient food during the pandemic. (Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)