Bhutan reaches out for rice amid export ban, India likely to offer it

By Zia Haq
Bhutan has requested India to allow rice export to the Himalayan kingdom, following India’s July 20 ban on overseas shipments of non-basmati varieties of the grain , a person aware of the matter has said. India’s decision has sent global rice prices soaring.
The world’s biggest rice exporter imposed the ban over growing concerns of El Nino, a weather pattern whose effects ripple around the globe, affecting the Indian monsoon and hitting rice output, and Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s grain shipments.

Bhutan has made a diplomatic request to India for rice shipments of up to 90,000 tonnes, the person said. Global prices have hit a 12-year high following India’s ban. The FAO’s All-Rice Price Index leapt 129.7 points in July 2023, up 19.6% from a year ago. India’s share in global rice exports is nearly 40%.

India’s rice ban allows for exemptions for export under conditional government-to-government deals and in case of requests made by “friendly countries” which have genuine food-security needs, the person cited above said. The same relaxations also apply to the wheat-export ban instituted in May 2022.
The conditions also stipulate that food exported by India under such exemptions cannot be used for trade and has to be utilized for domestic consumption, the person added.

Such diplomatic requests are first reviewed by the ministry of external affairs, a second person said, adding Bhutan’s request for rice is very likely to be acceded to. Once the proposal is sent to the food ministry, the Food Corporation of India, the Centre’s main food agency, will process the request and release the stocks.

Immediately after the wheat ban last year, food minister Piyush Goyal had said that India wasn’t a significant exporter of wheat, yet the country would cater to “genuine food-security needs of any friendly country”.
In September last year, India also banned the export of broken rice, but it has allowed exports to some countries.

“In the case of rice also, India will take up requests of any country that may face a dire need of food and seeks humanitarian assistance. This especially applies to our neighbours,” the second person added.

Since imposing the wheat and broken rice bans, India cleared over 300,000 tonnes of wheat shipments to Nepal, 200,000 tonnes of broken rice to Indonesia, 500,000 tonnes of broken rice to Senegal and 50,000 tonnes of broken rice to Gambia under humanitarian food assistance.

Global supplies have tightened since Ukraine is a major supplier of all types of grain and Russia’s blockade of its food shipments has caused a rally in global cereal prices. On July 17, Russia announced it was pulling out of the so-called Black Sea grain deal under which Ukraine could operate its ports. Days later, India clamped a ban on rice exports.
This article has been republished from The Hindustan Times

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