Burma’s Rice Exporters Eye European Market

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 15 June 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s rice exporters will attend an exhibition in Milan late next month for the first time, hoping to promote Burmese rice in Italy and other European markets, according to the chairman of the Myanmar Rice Federation.

Though China is Burmese rice exporters’ biggest customer and looks likely remain on top for some time, MRF chairman Chit Khine told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the European Union beckoned as Burma looks to ramp up exports of the staple grain.

“The EU market has potential and we need to extend our network by taking part in these kinds of exhibitions,” said Chit Khine, adding that he hoped to make a major push into the market next year.

In 2013, the European Union designated Burma eligible to benefit from its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), eliminating duties on imports from the Southeast Asian nation. One factor preventing a more robust growth in exports to Europe has been the low quality of Burma’s rice exports, with much of the product failing to meet EU standards.

Ongoing upgrades to domestic rice mills would help to make up for that shortcoming, according to Chit Khine.

EU sanctions under the previous military regime made the European market effectively off-limits for Burma’s rice traders, but the normalization of relations in recent years has them looking West once more.

“That’s why we’re trying to touch base with EU traders directly,” Chit Khine said.

Soe Tun, chairman of the Myanmar Farmers Association, said the Ministry of Commerce is backing rice exporters’ more aggressive effort to court European buyers.

And while a weakening kyat in recent months has brought concern from some quarters, rice exporters are benefiting from the currency’s slump, a trader in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy.

According to the Myanmar Rice Exporters Association, Burma’s rice exports in 2013-14 stood at about 1.2 million tons, down from nearly 1.5 million tons the year before. At more than 1.7 million tons, the 2014-15 fiscal year’s rice export volume exceeded the expectations of the Myanmar Rice Federation, which had predicted the figure at 1.5 million tons.

President Thein Sein has set a target to export 4 million tons of rice by 2020.