In defiance of a domestic ban on rice exports, India has continued to bolster global food security by supplying essential grains to its strategic neighbors and the broader ASEAN region. Despite stringent measures implemented by the government to control domestic food prices, rice exports to several nations have surged, revealing a clandestine yet vital avenue of trade.
Government data, scrutinized by Mint, illustrates a striking narrative: despite the ban, rice exports to South Asian countries during the initial eight months of the 2023-24 fiscal year totaled $567 million, down from $1.24 billion in the preceding year's corresponding period. ASEAN countries similarly experienced a decline, with rice exports dropping from $541 million to $341 million in the same timeframe.
Remarkably, bilateral agreements persistently facilitate these exports, albeit at potentially non-equivalent prices. National Cooperative Exports Ltd, established under the Multi-State Cooperative Societies Act of 2002, stands as a pivotal governmental body facilitating these government-to-government trade arrangements for agricultural produce.
Industry leaders anticipate that the ban will stabilize essential food prices domestically and ensure a steady supply of rice for distribution among beneficiaries of PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana for the next five years.
Iran, a significant neighboring country, saw a staggering surge in rice and oil meal imports from India. November 2023 witnessed a remarkable increase in rice exports to Iran, soaring from $4.25 million to $60 million, a 1,314% surge. Simultaneously, oil meal exports catapulted from $1.22 million to $46.52 million, marking an astonishing 3,713% growth.
Further analysis of the data unveils noteworthy growth across several nations. Nepal saw a surge from $3.64 million to $5.77 million in November, while Bhutan experienced a 21% growth, reaching $0.94 million. In the ASEAN region, Vietnam exhibited the most significant growth, soaring from $5.39 million to $14.63 million, marking a 171.43% increase.
India's exports to strategic partners have not been limited to rice alone. In November, the government cleared exports of various grains and rice varieties to key Asian and African nations, including Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and others.
The ban on rice exports, enforced due to dwindling public stock in the Central pool and subsequent inflationary pressures, led to a spike in global rice prices. Consequently, India's allies sought staggered shipments of the grain, compelling a revision in the Minimum Export Price (MEP) for Basmati rice from $1,200 to $950 per tonne in October 2023.
Despite the ban's intended containment, India's pivotal role in bolstering regional food security and supporting its strategic neighbors persists through resilient trade mechanisms and bilateral agreements.