- By Kyaw Htike Soe
The agricultural sector is the lifeblood of Myanmar people. Myanmar was the world’s largest exporter of rice in the mid-20th century.Being an agro-based country, Myanmar’s major exports are agricultural products and rice is one of them. More than 75 per cent of total rice production is consumed in the country where over 70 per cent of the total populations reside in rural areas and surplus rice volume is being exported to foreign countries.Myanmar is looking to become one of the world’s top three rice exporters in the next few years.
Myanmar has seen a dramatic increase in agricultural exports, earning about US$ 2.6 billion in the financial year 2017-2018.Thanks to the expansion of rice markets globally, Myanmar’s rice exports have risen to the highest level in 55 years in the fiscal year 2017-18, with rice and broken rice exports to foreign countries increased to more than 3 million tones, earning US$ 949 million and1.39 million tons of rice worth US$ 406 million was shipped by sea, according to the Ministry of Commerce. Myanmar exported about 2.06 million metric tons of rice and broken rice to foreign countries from 1 October 2018 to 16 August 2019, fetchingover US$ 623 million, according to a source from the Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF).The Southeast Asian country earned over US$ 490 million from freighting rice to 61 countries and US$ 107.147 million from transporting broken rice to 36 countries during this period.
“Myanmar shipped 3.58 million metric tons of rice which is the all-time highest record of rice in the fiscal year 2017-2018. But the export amount of rice to foreign countries declined after China suspended the import of rice from Myanmar. I think it would be difficult to surpass the old record of rice export to foreign countries,” said U Myint Lwin, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the MRF.China is the major rice export market for Myanmar.China offered Myanmar to officially purchase rice, according to a source from MRF. The proposal is made in accordance with the inter-government law so the offer will not be banned, said U Ye Min Aung, President of the MRF. “We don’t rely on solely Chinese market for rice export. We export rice to more than 60 countries. So we should consider the relations between the buyer and the supplier that had already been established in over 60 countries,” he added.
The MRF suggested the government that a negotiation should be made based on domestic rice demand if rice is officially exported to not only China but also other markets. Rice merchants and trader’s associations voiced concerns over illegal purchase of rice in border areas by Chinese merchants.Myanmar mainly exports rice to 62 countries including China, Bangladeshthe Philippines, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Madagascar. The country mostly transports broken rice to Belgium, followed by Indonesia, China, the Netherlands, United Kingdomand Sri Lanka, up from 40 countries compared to the previous year.The country set a target to export about 2.5 million metric tons of rice and broken rice to foreign markets as foreign demand was declined this financial year, the rice merchants said. An import ban on Myanmar’s agricultural products such as rice, sugar and maize by China last year has led to a standstill in trade, a rice merchant said.
“The Philippine government plans to put a ban on import of rice from foreign countries for three months. We will clarify about the situation to the regional government how to store rice purchased from farmers when rice harvest season starts and how to export rice to foreign markets,” said a rice mill owner from Bago Region.Around 52 per cent of the rice exports were conducted by sea route while the remaining was transported through border gates.Myanmar’s rice exports are expected to reach around 2.5 million metric tons in the current fiscal year, according to the MRF. The Ministry of Commerce is seeking possible ways and means to increase rice exports to foreign countries in cooperation with the MRF. Myanmar exported 1.8 million metric tons of rice and broken rice in 2014-2015 FY, 1.4 million metric tons of rice and broken rice in 2015-2016 FY, 1.7 million metric tons of rice and broken rice in 2016-2017, fetching US$ 405 millionand amounting to 1.78 million tons of rice than previous year.
The country transported about 3.6 million metric tons of rice and broken rice in 2017-2018 FY and earned US$ 544 million, according to the Myanmar Rice Federation.In addition, 1.633 million tons of rice valued at US$ 543 million was exported to neighboring countries via border trade routes.