Update: 15:33 | 18/02/2020
Since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic will surely affect exports to China, diversifying markets is an urgent requirement for Vietnamese rice exporters, experts have said.
The winter-spring rice crop harvest has begun in the Mekong Delta region.
In Hau Giang province 1,000ha of crops have been marginally affected by salinity but farmers have harvested hundreds of hectares of rice early, and the yield is quite high at 7.7 tonnes per hectare.
Prices have decreased slightly since the beginning of the season earlier this month because exports to China have ceased, said Tran Chi Hung, Director of the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The price would continue to drop unless new markets are found, he said.
Bui Thi Thanh Tam, General Director of VinaFoods 1 Corporation, said five years ago China was the largest market for Vietnamese rice, but now export markets have been expanded, meaning the novel coronavirus epidemic would not hit Vietnam's exports too badly.
The Philippines became the largest market for Vietnamese rice, buying 885 million USD worth of rice last year, according to the General Department of Customs.
Do Ha Nam, Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Food Association, said China would continue to reduce rice imports this year.
But Vietnam has a chance to ship to Japan this year since that latter wants to diversify its import sources to other suppliers from countries that have signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), including Vietnam.
It now relies much on US supply. But to export to Japan, the Vietnamese agriculture sector needs support from authorities.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade focuses on developing markets and negotiating free trade agreements. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) is in charge of production, including quality improvements.
Local authorities need to guide and encourage farmers to produce organic rice.
Businesses also need to ensure the quality of the rice they are exporting.
If these tasks are well co-ordinated, export growth could be ensured, Tam said.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Xuan Cuong said global rice exports now are 36-40 million tonnes a year, with Vietnam accounting for seven million tonnes, but its export value is not high because of its passive approach.
In the long term, the agricultural sector should look at reducing the total area under rice to a level that ensures food security and reasonable export volumes, he said.
It also needs to ensure the quality of the grain and packaging, he said.
As for exports, Vietnam should expand to new markets like Africa and the Middle East besides regional countries such as Indonesia and Singapore, he said.
Vietnam's major competitor, Thailand, faces a severe drought, affecting rice production, while Singapore, which imports 30-40 percent of its rice from Thailand, is considering diversifying import sources, MARD said.
Vietnam has shipped the grain to 150 countries and territories in Asia, Africa and the Americas.