Asian rice prices were little changed this week, with export demand sluggish and Thai mills on an extended holiday, traders said on Thursday.

Nigeria, the largest importer of Thai rice last year, taking around 1.24 million tonnes, data from the rice exporters’ association showed. But the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) expect Nigeria’s rice imports to drop by 100,000 metric tonnes (mt) this year its rice market monitor report released this month.

Based on industry estimates, Nigeria’s annual rice consumption requirement is 5 million metric tonnes (mmt), while domestic supply is estimated to be 3 million mmt annually.

This would be a direct consequence of the FGN’s import substitution policy which has recorded successes not just in rice, but also sugar and wheat

Thai exporters are waiting for clarity on rice shipments from Nigeria’s president-elect Muhammadu Buhari, the official said.

“Thai and Vietnamese rice prices are currently in a similar situation,” an official at the Thai rice exporters’ association said declining to be named. “Although prices have come down, exports have not really picked up. Demand is weak from foreign countries and many factors are contributing.”

Demand is expected to pick up in the coming weeks as Islamic nations start buying for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts around June 17, a Bangkok-based trader said.

“Especially in the Middle East, they will start buying rice soon to prepare for Ramadan,” the trader said. “But once it is Ramadan, the cost of making shipments rises as well.”

Thailand had a public holiday from April 13-15 and some rice mills are shut for the rest of the week, which further subdued demand, a Bangkok-based trader said.

Thailand’s benchmark 5-percent broken rice was quoted at $396 per tonne free-on-board on Thursday, against last Thursday’s price of $395 a tonne.

The Thai government has announced it would delay further sales of rice from its stockpiles until the market gets stronger.

Prices on Vietnam’s export market were stable after purchases under a government-backed stockpiling plan ended on Wednesday, traders said.

Vietnam’s 5-percent broken rice prices stood unchanged from last week at $365-$370 a tonne, free-on-board Saigon Port.

“There are only a few loading activities for contracts signed earlier,” a trader in Ho Chi Minh City said.

Vietnam exported 1.14 million tonnes rice in the first quarter of 2015, down 18.8 percent from a year earlier, the Finance Ministry-run Vietnam Customs said.

China, Vietnam’s largest rice buyer, has not stepped up its purchases, although its annual import demand is forecast to rise 5.2 percent to 3.2 million tonnes in 2015, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

April 17, 2015;

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