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India’s Rice Export Ban Sparks Global Market Fears and Localized Panic Among Expatriates




India, the world’s largest exporter of rice, recently ordered a halt to its largest category of rice exports, a move that could halve shipments globally. The government cites a 3% climb in retail rice prices within a month as the reason behind this decision. Notably, this rise in prices is due to significant damage caused to crops by late, heavy monsoon rains. India’s contributions to world rice exports exceed 40%, implying that any reduction in its shipments could inflate global food prices, which are already under pressure from the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year and unpredictable weather conditions. Moreover, low inventories with other exporters like Thailand and Vietnam only exacerbate the potential problem. The Reuters report explains that such a move by India would disrupt the global rice market with far greater velocity than Ukraine did in the wheat market with Russia’s invasion.

Impact on the Indian Rice Market

The category affected by this decision, non-basmati white and broken rice, accounted for around 10 million tons out of the total 22 million tons of Indian rice exports last year. The ban, however, does not include parboiled rice, which represented 7.4 million tons of exports in 2022. The prohibition aims to ensure adequate availability of non-basmati white rice in the domestic Indian market, thereby controlling the escalating prices, a particularly sensitive issue ahead of the general elections next year. Key points to note: The decision followed a retail price increase of 11.5% over the past 12 months. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has previously extended a ban on wheat exports and capped sugar exports this year as yields dropped. The ban became effective from July 20, but vessels already loaded for exports were exempted.

Farming Difficulties and Global Supply Concerns

The recent heavy rains in the northern parts of India have wreaked havoc on newly planted crops, especially in states like Punjab and Haryana, forcing many farmers to replant. This weather damage combined with inadequate rainfall in other major rice-growing states has added to the farmers’ woes, leading to a 6% smaller planting area than in 2022. Consequently, this situation has caused global supply concerns, sending the prices of rice exported from Vietnam, the world’s third-largest exporter, to their highest in over a decade due to the El Niño effect. In particular, Vietnam’s 5% broken rice was offered at $515 to $525 per metric ton, its highest since 2011.

International Implications and Panic Among NRIs

The impact of this ban extends beyond India’s borders, with the majority of countries affected being in Africa. However, it has also caused panic among thousands of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in the United States and Canada. These expatriates flocked to local grocery stores and retail chains to stockpile rice after the ban was announced. The shortage has led to a surge in prices, with Indian white rice now costing nearly $50 per 20 lb, double the price of organic rice. The North American market, which includes the US and Canada, imported 64,330 tonnes of non-basmati rice from India in 2022-23. Experts are suggesting that the government consider a separate classification for specialized rice varieties such as Sona Masuri to permit their exports. Some NRIs have even begun cultivating Indian premium rice varieties in Africa to tackle this issue. Regardless, experts predict that the ban will be short-lived, possibly lasting for only six months.

Looking Forward

Given that rice is a staple for more than 3 billion people worldwide, India’s decision has understandably caused anxiety. However, it is crucial to remember that the government’s primary responsibility is towards its citizens. Thus, with the double-digit rise in food grain prices and slow progress in Kharif paddy sowing, the move is an effort to control domestic inflation, especially with the Lok Sabha elections just 10 months away. As the situation unfolds, it remains to be seen how the global market and NRIs adjust to these changes.