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FACTBOX-Why have rice prices surged to record highs?

 May 9 - Asian rice prices have almost trebled this year and
prices on the Chicago Board of Trade have risen more than 80
percent to hit successive record highs as export restrictions
by leading suppliers fuel insecurity over food supplies.
 With only 30 million tonnes traded annually, government
supply curbs, such as those from New Delhi and Hanoi, have
spooked importers, such as the Philippines and Bangladesh, at a
time when global stocks have halved since hitting a record high
in 2001.
 EXPORT CURBS:
 * October 2007 - India, which was the world's
second-largest rice exporter last year but is set to lag behind
Thailand and the United States this year, bans exports of
non-basmati rice to rein in prices and control inflation, but
later in the month eased the ban on some superior varieties of
the grain.
 * March 2008 - India bans exports of non-basmati rice again
as inflation hits a 14-month high, alarming policymakers.
 * March 2008 - Egypt bans rice exports from April 1 to
October to hold down local prices. The country normally
produces about 4.6 million tonnes a year of white rice, leaving
a domestic surplus of about 1.4 million tonnes for export.
 * April 2008 - Vietnam extends a ban on rice sales until
June to help stabilise domestic food prices as it tries to tame
double-digit inflation. Prior to that, it had curtailed exports
for March and April.
 * April 2008 - Brazil temporarily suspends rice exports to
safeguard domestic supply and keep prices of the basic
foodstuff stable. Brazil, which is not a major global rice
supplier, exported 313,000 tonnes of rice last year.
 * April 2008 - Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest rice
consumer, says it would curb medium-grade rice exports to
combat inflation. Under Indonesia's new rice export rules,
state procurement agency Bulog is allowed to sell medium-grade
rice overseas only when national stocks are above 3 million
tonnes and domestic prices are below a government's target
price.
 * April 2008 - India slaps export taxes on basmati rice, on
top of an existing ban on non-basmati rice exports.
 * May 2008 - Bangladesh bans non-aromatic rice exports.
 MYANMAR CYCLONE
 A cyclone sweeps through Myanmar's Irawaddy delta,
inundating rice crops and raising the prospect that the country
may need to import from its neighbours. While years of military
misrule have seen Burma slip far from its post-indepedence
position as the world's biggest exporter, the U.N.'s Food and
Agriculture Organisation said it had been looking for 600,000
tonnes of rice exports from Myanmar this year.
 SCRAMBLE TO BUILD STOCKS
 * January 2008 - Bangladesh signs deals and starts
importing 180,000 tonnes of white rice from neighbouring
Myanmar. The Bangladeshi government and private traders started
importing rice after crop losses caused by flooding last year.
 March 2008 - The Philippines says it aims to import up to
2.2 million tonnes of rice this year to meet a domestic
shortfall, in what could be the biggest overseas purchase of
the staple in a decade. Local harvests have failed to keep up
with expanding population, lifting inflation to a 16-month
high.
 * March 2008 - Costa Rica expects its rice imports to jump
31 percent to 190,000 tonnes in the 2008/09 crop year, which
begins in July, as farmers replace some rice fields with other
crops such as sugar cane and pineapple. Bad weather in the
remaining rice-growing areas also has cut yields.
 * March 2008 - Bangladesh says it would import 400,000
tonnes of rice from India to cushion the country's dwindling
stocks. The imports, allowed under a government-to-government
deal, would not be subjected to the rise in rice export prices.
 * April 2008 - Singapore says it would allow rice importers
to bring in more stock to meet increased demand amid consumer
fears of a rice supply crunch and higher prices.
 * May 2008 - Mexico says it will allow 250,000 tonnes of
rice to be imported without the usual 20 percent tariff in an
effort to protect Mexicans from soaring food prices.
 FALLING WORLD INVENTORIES
 World inventories have fallen by nearly 50 percent from a
record high of 147.1 million tonnes in 2000/01, although they
have already recovered slightly from a low in 2004/05. They are
expected to rise marginally by the end of this crop year.
  Year       Production Exports  Domestic     Ending
                              Consumption  Stocks
  2000/01      398.9     24.4      395.3      147.1
  2001/02      399.7     27.9      413.5      133.3
  2002/03      378.1     27.6      407.9      103.5
  2003/04      391.7     27.2      413.2       82.1
  2004/05      400.8     29.2      408.4       74.4
  2005/06      418.1     29.4      416.0       76.5
  2006/07      420.6     30.3      420.9       76.1
  2007/08      425.3     27.5      424.2       77.2
 Source; USDA data. Figures are in millions of tonnes.
 SPECULATIVE BUYING
 On the Chicago Board of Trade, financial speculators
looking for the next big commodity play, have helped lift
prices by about 80 percent this year to successive record
highs. To a degree, hoarding by consumers has also fed the rise
by spurring importers to seek supplies sooner.
 DIVERSIFICATION OF LAND USE
 In some countries such as the Philippines, production is
failing to keep up with demand because paddy land is being
overtaken for industrial development, or because farmers are
seeking other trades. This is a longer-term issue that should
contribute to supply tightness in the future, and governments
in Vietnam and the Philippines have both moved to curb
conversion of farmland to other uses.
 GROWING DEMAND
 In poor nations facing a doubling in wheat and corn prices,
rice consumption is rising, but this is partly offset by
falling per-capita consumption in big countries such as China.
Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that
consumption in China -- which accounts for 30 percent of world
consumption -- has fallen by 3.9 percent over the past five
years. But global consumption has risen by 2.7 percent over the
same period, in places such as Nigeria, the Philippines and
Bangladesh.
  (For a graphic on Thai white rice, click on:
here
 HRICE2408.gif (Writing by Sambit Mohanty; Editing by Michael
Urquhart)

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