BANGKOK, THAILAND - THAILAND, the world's biggest rice exporter, can meet its 2008 rice export target of 8.75 million tonnes despite an expected drop in exports in the second quarter, exporters and traders said on Saturday.
Thai exports are being watched closely as rice supply shortages heighten food security fears across Asia for the staple food of about 3 billion people.
'We need no restriction on exports right now. The government should let the free-market mechanism play its role,' Mr Chookiat Ophaswongse, head of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, told reporters at an emergency meeting to discuss tight supplies.
Thailand shipped 3.25 million tonnes of rice in the January-March period, compared to 738,000 tonnes in the same period last year, due to strong demand after India banned the export of non-basmati rice to ensure its own food supply.
Vietnam has halted exports to other countries in order to fill contracts for the Philippines.
Thai exporters say shipments are expected to drop in the second quarter because they cannot get enough rice due to hoarding by millers hoping for bigger profits as prices soar.
'But that will be offset by a jump in first quarter exports,' Mr Chookiat said.
'We need only 650,000 tonnes per month for the rest of this year, which I believe we can do because I am sure we have ample supply,' he said.
Thai prices hit a historic high on Friday when about 2,000 tonnes of premium grade fragrant rice was sold to Hong Kong importers at $1,000 a tonne.
Mr Chookiat said the expected second quarter drop in exports should help soften domestic prices, thereby making supply available for export in the second half of the year.
But traders did not expect a dramatic fall in Thai rice prices later in the year.
'If India and Vietnam are still struggling to export, Thai rice prices will remain firm,' one trader said.
Southeast Asian finance ministers said on Friday they had received assurances from Thailand that it would not curb exports.
'We are assured that there would be no shortage of supply,' Singapore Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said at a news conference at the end of the two-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference in Danang, Vietnam.
'In term of sourcing of our food products, each of us has our own strategy,' the Singapore minister said.
'Our Thai colleagues reassured us that they have not imposed any restrictions on rice exports.' -- REUTERS