The U.S. rice industry continues to hope for and explore export opportunities in the Cuban market. A group of lawmakers and industry representatives report optimism for future trade. While Cuba is facing sharply higher import needs this year due to severe production problems, it does not appear likely that any Cuban purchases of U.S. rice will occur anytime soon. U.S. financing restrictions and Cuban officials unhappy with the limitations posed by the U.S. legislation has made actual U.S.-Cuban trade very difficult.

Through a Title I food aid agreement, the U.S. will send approximately 40,000 tons of rice to Uzbekistan this year. The agreement will help meet Uzbekistan's domestic needs following severe drought that dramatically reduced the country's rice production in 2000. Uzbekistan is expected to buy medium grain milled rice.

On Monday, April 16, the USDA reported that the U.S. rice crop is now 31% planted, 9% above the five-year average for the date (April 15). Overall, U.S. paddy exports remain brisk, while the U.S. milled market remains slow.

Vietnamese prices pushed marginally lower this week due to slow global demand and abundant winter-spring supplies. Farmers are eager to unload new harvest supplies, putting negative pressure on the market.

During the past few weeks, however, Vietnamese price have remained relatively stable on shipments to Africa, Cuba and the Philippines and on government intervention purchases. Vietnam is reportedly competing with India for a 200,000-ton contract with the Philippines. Vietnamese prices would receive further support from the additional Philippine business. The government plan to stockpile 1 million tons is on schedule and should be complete by the end of April. So far, Vietnamese trading firms have purchased approximately 800,000 tons of rice through the program.

Thai prices have dropped this week primarily in response to a lack of new sales. Large domestic and global supplies and the decline of the baht have also contributed the decline in Thai rice values. Thai 25% broken is now quoting in the $137-139 per ton range FOB. Traders report a 50,000-ton parboiled rice sale to Nigeria this week. Overall Thai rice exports for the period January 1-April 17 totaled 1,593,005 tons, a 60,025-ton decrease from the same period in 2000.

Like Viet prices, Thai prices are receiving support from government intervention purchases. Some potential buyers, aware of large regional surpluses, are waiting for better buying opportunities. Vietnam and Thailand are again considering a cooperative "rice pool" agreement this year. The rice pool has been proposed as a way to reduce price competition and boost export prices in both countries.

The Philippine National Food Authority (NFA) is still negotiating for its latest 200,000-ton contract. According to local Philippine media, only Indian and Vietnamese state firms submitted bids. Traders believe the Viet bid was in the $145-146 per ton (C&F) range.

Some NFA officials hint that the prices achieved for this tender are even lower than the Vietnamese price of $145.20 per ton (C&F) that won the last Philippine bidding war. Philippine officials are still negotiating over the cost of offloading and delivery of the rice to the country's warehouses. An announcement on the tender is expected soon.

Traders report a slight drop in rice prices in Pakistan on slow domestic and export activity. The market is expected to stabilize on predictions of a smaller crop this year due to water shortages. Pakistan has exported 900,000 tons of Irri-6 rice so far this year, and traders predict only another 200,000 tons of exports before the new season starts in September. The Pakistani Finance Minister and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are currently discussing a plan to end price supports for rice and other agricultural products.

Indian rice output for 2000/01 is forecast at 85.5 million tons, down from the 89.5 million tons produced last year. The decline in output is primarily due to significantly smaller planted acreage in West Bengal, a major rice producing state. Indications so far for the ongoing 2000-01 season project overall rice procurement to possibly go over 20 million tons, well above the 18.21 million ton record set during the 1999-2000 marketing season.

China exported 370,000 tons of rice between the beginning of January and the end of March of this year, a 55% decline from the same period of last year. China exported 130,000 tons of rice in March.

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