BANGKOK, June 13 (Reuters) - Thailand will ship at least 9.5 million tonnes of rice this year, about the same as last year and above an earlier forecast of 9 million tonnes, due to strong overseas demand, the commerce minister said on Friday.
Mingkwan Sangsuwan said several countries were in talks to buy a combined 6.7 million tonnes in the second half of the year. A ministry statement said Iran, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and East Timor were among those in negotiations.
“Last year, we exported 9.5 million tonnes. For this year, I think, we will not export less,” he said in an interview.
Thailand shipped 5.2 million tonnes of rice in January-May, up 48.5 percent from 3.5 million tonnes a year ago, according to ministry data.
Benchmark Thai 100 percent B grade white rice RI-THWHB-P1 fell 4.1 percent to $820 a tonne this week, continuing a decline from a peak of about $1,080 in April as supply has increased.
Asian rice prices almost trebled to record highs earlier this year as export restrictions by leading suppliers fuelled insecurity over food supplies.
The Philippines, the world’s biggest rice importer, has slowed its buying, scrapping a tender for 675,000 tonnes of rice last month and opting to wait until prices fall further.
The Philippines is also negotiating with Vietnam, whose rice prices are usually $30-$40 per tonne cheaper than Thai prices, to buy an unspecified quantity of rice, the Philippines Agriculture Secretary said on Friday.
Around 7.6 million tonnes of paddy are expected to come on to the market during the Thai harvesting season in June, depressing prices. But Mingkwan said he was confident Thai prices would remain firm because of a government guaranteed price scheme.
Under the plan, which opens on Sunday, the government will buy paddy rice directly from farmers at a fixed price of 14,000 baht per tonne.
“With the rice-buying programme, domestic prices will not go down and farmers will be happy,” Mingkwan said. (Reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat; Editing by Ed Cropley & Ian Geoghegan)