x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Rice trade soars in clamour for cheaper food

Rice trade in Dubai skyrocketed in the first half of 2008, as consumers sought cheaper alternatives.

DUBAI // Rice trade in Dubai skyrocketed in the first half of this year, driven up by radical changes in the food habits of customers looking to compensate for soaring commodity prices on other edibles. According to the Dubai World Statistics Department, Dubai's import and re-export of this vital commodity rocketed by an unprecedented 155 per cent, reaching a value of Dh3.04 billion (US$829 million) for the first six months of the year, up from Dh1.19bn for the same period last year. The volume of traded rice also jumped from 579,000 tonnes in the first half of last year to 823,000 for the year to June, an increase of 42 per cent. Imports alone rose to a value of about Dh2.28bn, up from Dh927m for the first half of last year. Re-exports recorded remarkable growth, nearly tripling in value from last year. Re-exports for the year to June valued Dh755m, up from Dh264m. India topped the list of countries exporting rice to Dubai, despite a ban implemented by the government in New Dehli on the export of the widely consumed non-basmati rice varieties. Rice imports from India accounted for 67.7 per cent of the total rice trade for the first half of this year at a value of Dh1.55bn. Pakistan was the second-highest rice exporter to Dubai at Dh610m, or 26.6 per cent of trade, and Thailand was third at Dh95m, or 4 per cent of all trade. Some believe India's dominance as chief exporter may ease slightly as importers seek alternatives in light of trade restrictions. "We have been buying a lot more rice from Thailand and Vietnam, and it is really cheap these days now that the dollar is climbing back up," said Riaz Hussein Bhojani, the general manager of the Dubai trading firm Rashwell. Iran had the lion's share in the re-export of rice from Dubai with a value of Dh657m, or 87 per cent of all re-exports. Iraq was second at Dh40m, or 5.4 per cent, followed by the US at Dh8.4m, or 1.1 per cent. Officials with the Dubai World Statistics Department attributed the massive jump to a shift by families from more expensive luxury and speciality foods to more basic commodities in an effort to cut costs. A jolt to the global grain market earlier this year dealt a fierce blow to many poorer countries, as well as import-dependent markets like those of the GCC. Hundreds of millions of consumers spend most of what they have on food, and prices soared anywhere from 50 per cent to 300 per cent on some commodity items. However, as a staple in the diet of millions around the world, even the soaring rice prices seen earlier this year did not dampen demand. "People have to eat, no matter what the price of the rice is," said Khaled Zanul Abid, general manager of Talal Supermarket in Jebel Ali. "Maybe they will stop buying some other products but they still eat the rice." vsalama@thenational.ae