Rice exporters are expected to ship 900,000 tonnes of the grain abroad in the first quarter of this year.

Under plans drawn up for 2015 by the Vietnam Food Association (VFA), rice exports for the whole year will reach 7 million tonnes.

Nguyen Hung Linh, VFA Chairman, said local exporters have not signed many contracts because local rice prices have been higher than average world prices, reported the Thoi bao Kinh te Vietnam (Vietnam Economic Times) newspaper.

But, as the winter-spring crop approaches harvest time, traders are likely to step up purchases because of reasonable prices when supply increases, he said.

However, the association has also said that this year will also see a drop in Vietnam's rice exports to key markets.

A recent report in the Thoi bao Ngan hang (Banking Times) said that rice exports to China will see the steepest fall because of the Chinese Government's policies on controlling trade via border gates.

Meanwhile, export of Vietnamese rice to African markets will plunge 60 percent, as it did in 2014, said the VFA.

The main reason for this drop is that African nations are buying considerable amounts of cheap and low-quality rice from Thailand and India, and Vietnamese companies are unable to compete with them. The two countries have large inventories of low-quality rice and they plan to sell several dozen tones of this in 2015.

Regarding other key export markets, the VFA estimates that the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia will import from Vietnam 1.7, 1.1 and 1.3 million tonnes respectively in 2015.

If Vietnam's rice exporters can take advantage of the regional situation and cut selling prices, they can increase shipments this year by as much as 2.1 million tonnes to the three markets, the VFA said.

In 2014, Vietnam exported 6.32 million tonnes of rice, earning 2.8 million USD, to become the third largest rice exporter in the world, after Thailand and India, according to the association.-VNA