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After 20 yrs, India may import rice
New Delhi, Nov 18 (IANS/Agencies):
Published on 19 Nov. 2009 12:32 AM IST
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Expecting a 14-15 million shortfall in paddy production and procurement this year, India may import rice to shore up its stocks, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in New Delhi on Wednesday. After a gap of 20 years, India may import rice from Thailand and Vietnam in the wake of poor monsoon resulting in drought in several states that destroyed the crop. “Various possibilities are there. We are also exploring the option of government-to-government deals. Talks have started. Prices will be negotiated,” Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting here with the state industry ministers. “There is a projection that there will be a shortfall of our kharif (summer) crop. So we may have to make some imports,” Mukherjee told reporters on the sidelines of an event organised by the Union Bank of India. “As of now, the government has six million tonnes of surplus rice and seven million tonnes of wheat stocks,” the minister added. Mukherjee said recently that erratic monsoon this year, followed by floods in some parts of the country, could have lowered India’s foodgrain output by 14-15 million tonnes. “I’m waiting for a hard assessment of the sub-normal southwest monsoon and the impact of floods,” he had told journalists. “There are some estimates that grain production will be less -- 14-15 million tonnes.” During the 2008-09 kharif season, India’s rice production stood at 84.5 million tonnes, compared to an estimate of 69.45 million tonnes during this year’s season. The country logged record grain output last year (July-June), estimated at 233.87 million tonnes. But the failure of monsoon -- on which depends 60 per cent of India’s agriculture -- cast a shadow on this year’s crop. Anand Sharma added that the government might buy rice from Thailand and Vietnam. This comes after state-run agencies such as State Trading Corporation (STC), MMTC and PEC floated rice import tenders for 100,000 tonnes each. So far, 18 bids have been received within the price range of $372-$590 a tonne, which according to the government is high. The agencies have also asked the government for extending the validity period of bids till November 23. The issue is expected to be taken up by the empowered group of ministers (EGoM), headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, on November 20. The country’s kharif rice output is projected to decline by nearly 18 per cent (or 15.13 million tonnes) to 69.45 million tonnes (MT) from 84.58 MT last year, according to the agriculture ministry. The government is targeting procurement of 26 MT of rice in the current marketing season (October-September). Rice procurement in the last season was at a record 33.6 MT. “Government should procure it wisely and intelligently. In the domestic market, there is no shortage of rice as such. But if they are importing it for food security purposes then it should be done through a proper mechanism and they should fix a price band for the same,” said Vijay Sethia, immediate past president, All India Rice Exporters’ Association. Sharma, however, said that the wheat stocks are in surplus and there would be no need to import the item. India had last imported over 7 MT of wheat in 2006-07.

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