Thailand’s rice exports surged by 75.2% in January 2023 compared to a year earlier, boosted by year-end orders, higher demand from the Middle East, and a weaker baht currency, according to the Commerce Ministry. The country’s rice exports for the month were at 805,519 tonnes, and the value of the shipments rose by 78.76% to 14.28 billion baht ($406.72 million) year-on-year.
Ronnarong Phoolpipat, head of the ministry’s foreign trade department, said the “shocking rate” of increase in rice exports in January was also due to the ministry’s trade promotion efforts. He highlighted an opportunity to export more to the Middle East, given the purchasing power of some Arab nations and their low agricultural output. In the last year, the region was the only growing market for Thai rice, taking 2.02 million tonnes of rice, or 26% of total rice shipments.
In 2021, Thailand shipped only 630,000 tonnes of rice to the region. The Commerce Ministry is sticking to its overall rice export target of 7.5 million tonnes this year but will monitor the baht before deciding whether to revise the target, Ronnarong said. Earlier this year, the ministry lowered its export target for 2023 from 8 million tonnes to 7.5 million tonnes as the baht, which had dropped as much as 13% against the dollar in October last year, appreciated.
However, the baht has weakened again by 1.5% against the dollar so far this year, becoming Asia’s third-worst performing currency. Thailand is the world’s third-largest rice exporter after India and Vietnam. In 2022, the country shipped 7.69 million tonnes of rice, up 22.1% from a year earlier, beating its target of 7.5 million tonnes, with the top markets being Iraq, South Africa, China, and the United States.
Thailand has been making efforts to increase its share of the world rice market, which is estimated to be worth around $24 billion annually. The country has been focusing on higher-quality rice and promoting exports through e-commerce platforms, along with exploring new markets, including Africa and South America. In addition, the Thai Rice Exporters Association has been seeking to expand exports to China, which accounts for 5-10% of the country’s total exports.
Thailand’s strong performance in rice exports in January could provide a much-needed boost to the country’s struggling economy, which is still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has been rolling out stimulus measures, including cash handouts and soft loans, to support businesses and households affected by the pandemic. The country’s central bank has also lowered interest rates to a record low of 0.50% to spur economic growth.