Vietnamese companies are expected to win contracts to export some 3.2 million tonnes of rice in the first quarter of 2012, a year-on-year increase of 15 percent, according to the Vietnam Food Association (VFA).

As of March 25, the companies had signed contracts to export 2.8 million tonnes of rice for this year, mainly to Asian markets like China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, Le Thanh Phong, VFA Chairman told the English language daily Vietnam News on March 26.

So far this year, nearly 900,000 tonnes of rice have been shipped to buyers through the export contracts, said Phong.

He also said that Viet Nam was selling 5 percent broken rice for 450 USD per tonne, 10 USD per tonne higher compared with early March.

"We have seen optimistic signs for the country's rice export right in the first quarter of this year," he said.

China alone has imported some 500,000 tonnes of rice, mainly the high-quality 4 percent broken rice, through official channels from Vietnam.

Besides this, some 400,000 tonnes of Vietnamese rice, over half of it lower-quality rice, have been sold to China through cross-border trade.

"The high demand for rice from China has helped boost export of rice from Vietnam," Phong said, adding the increase in China's imports have compensated for the 25 percent decrease in rice exports to African markets.

Vietnamese rice now accounts for 30 percent of the Hong Kong market which requires "very high" quality, Phong said.

In addition to the Chinese buyers, local firms have won contracts to sell 190,000 tonnes of rice to the Philippines.

Malaysia will buy some 650,000 tonnes of medium quality rice which will be shipped from late February to December 2012.

With 1.1 million tonnes of rice reserved from last year and 3.5 million tonnes of rice from the 2011-2012 winter-spring crop, the country has a total of 4.6 million tonnes of rice for export in the first half of 2012.

Phong said 1.2 million tonnes will be shipped to buyers in the first quarter and some 2 million tonnes in the second quarter, so the country will have 1.6 million tonnes in stock for the second half of the year.

"The local rice market has stabilised," Phong said.

He said there is stiff competition for low-priced rice from India and Myanmar and for high-price rice from Thailand, so Vietnam should focus on medium-priced rice for now.

Phong said 89 VFA members have bought some 300,000 tonnes of rice during the first ten days of the plan to buy one million tonnes for reserves. The plan is scheduled to run until April 30.-VNA