By Ruma Paul
DHAKA, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Bangladesh is set to import a total of 250,000 tonnes of rice from Thailand and India in intergovernmental deals to shore up depleted stocks of the staple, head of the state grain buyer said on Monday.
Bangladesh, normally the world’s fourth-biggest rice producer, has emerged as a major importer of the grain this year after floods damaged its crops and sent domestic prices of the staple to record highs.
“We will buy 150,000 tonnes of parboiled rice from Thailand at $465 a tonne and another 100,000 tonnes from India’s PEC at $455 a tonne,” Badrul Hasan of the Directorate General of Food, Bangladesh’s procurement agency, told Reuters.
The prices agreed include shipping, insurance and discharge costs.
“We have almost finalised all the deals to fulfil our target,” said Hasan, adding that the state grains buyer aims to import 1.5 million tonnes of rice in the year to June 2018.
The latest purchases from Thailand and India followed a government buy of 100,000 tonnes of white rice from Myanmar, a deal that put aside the worsening relations between Dhaka and Naypyidaw over the Rohingya refugee crisis.
The deals with Thailand and India were finalised after a second round of talks with the two top rice exporting countries after Bangladesh’s initial efforts suffered a setback due to high prices.
High demand from Bangladesh helped push Asian rice prices to multi-year highs in June.
Bangladesh also struck a deal to buy 250,000 tonnes of white rice at $453 a tonne from Cambodia, after earlier making a cheaper deal with Vietnam.
Rice is a staple food for Bangladesh’s 160 million people and high prices pose a problem for the government, which faces a national election next year.
In August, Bangladesh cut a duty on rice imports for the second time in two months. The lower import duty has prompted purchases by private dealers, with most of the deals being struck with neighbouring India.
The state grains buyer also issued a series of tenders to import rice. Hasan, however, said: “No more tenders for rice will be issued.”
A team from India’s National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED) is to visit Dhaka next week to hold talks to sell rice to Bangladesh, a food ministry official said.
“But there is no room for any more deals unless they come up with a very lucrative offer,” Hasan said.
Bangladesh produces around 34 million tonnes of rice annually but uses almost all its production to feed its population. It often requires imports to cope with shortages caused by floods or droughts. (Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Tom Hogue)