Vietnam’s rice exports plunged in the first quarter of this year and are forecast to see increasing competition from Thailand and the potential fluctuation of domestic rice prices in the year’s second quarter.

The country shipped abroad 1.219 million tonnes of rice in the January-March period, earning around 529.78 million USD in free-on-board (FOB) value, a year-on-year drop of 15.41 percent in volume and 16.9 percent in value.

According to the Vietnam Food Association (VFA), the decline was attributed to a low inventory level, short supply of rice, and increased domestic rice prices, which made the country’s rice exports uncompetitive in world markets.

More than 40 percent of Vietnam’s total rice exports in the reviewed period were exported to China while the Philippines consumed 31 percent. The volume of the grain destined for Cuba and Africa was down over 51 percent and nearly 63 percent respectively.

The VFA added that the global rice market will be led by Thailand in April when the country restores the stature of its rice and dumps the grain on world markets from its inventory.

It further said that trade deals in the world market also have big influences on Vietnam’s rice market, leading to price fluctuations in the domestic market, a big challenge for local rice exporters.

Thailand plans to sell 200,000 tonnes of 5-percent broken rice to the Malaysia-based Bernas firm at 385 USD per tonne, according to unconfirmed information.

In addition, the Philippines will put the provision of 800,000 tonnes of 15-percent broken rice out to tender on April 15, while Thailand is capable of meeting the 800,000-tonne order, Vietnam’s participation in the bidding is expected.

According to the Department for Cultivation under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in the 2013-2014 winter-spring crop, the Mekong Delta cultivated a total rice field area of 1.6 million hectares.

As much as 7.48 million tonnes of paddy were harvested from the combined rice field area of 1.1 million hectares. The region will harvest the yield of the remaining area in April.

To help farmers sell their produce, 133 VFA businesses were directed to purchase rice produced in the crop for storage. They have to date bought 349,267 tonnes of rice, equivalent to 34.4 percent of the year’s plan.-VNA