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Asian rice exporting hubs saw tepid activity this week, with prices for the staple from top exporter India dipping on lower demand, while Bangladesh mulled a review of its ban on exports of the grain. India's 5 percent broken parboiled variety was quoted around $377-$380 per tonne, down from last week's $387-$390.

Demand from African buyers was weak as they have ample inventories, said Nitin Gupta, vice president, rice business at Olam India. Aggressive selling of old inventories by China at lower prices has also weighing on prices, he added.

The country's rice exports for April-February dropped 9.4 percent from a year earlier to 10.57 million tonnes, as leading buyer Bangladesh trimmed its purchases due to a bumper local harvest, a government body said. On Thursday, Bangladesh's commerce minister said a long-standing ban on rice exports will be discussed after strong pleas from traders to lift the restriction.

"If we have surplus, we can allow rice exports," Tipu Munshi told reporters after a meeting with the rice traders association. Bangladesh, traditionally the world's fourth biggest rice producer, banned overseas shipments of some common rice varieties in May 2008 following a spike in domestic prices. It banned all rice exports a year later.

In 2017, the country was forced to massively increase imports to shore up domestic reserves after floods wrought havoc on local crops and pushed domestic rice prices to record highs, but domestic stocks have since greatly improved. In Thailand, the world's second-largest exporter, the benchmark 5-percent broken rice prices eased slightly to $393-$411 a tonne, free on board Bangkok, from $405-$410 last week.

"Overseas buyers have turned to rice from India and Vietnam because their prices have been more competitive compared to ours," a trader said. However, concerns over domestic supply in the country have kept prices steady recently, traders said. "The harvest of the last crop was completed last month and there is no new supply except unsold rice from the mills, this meant prices remain stable with a tendency to rise even though there is no demand," a Bangkok-based rice trader said.

Rates for Vietnam's 5 percent broken rice stood flat for a fifth week at $360 a tonne, as supply begins to wane, traders said. However, prices were still at their highest since mid-January, with traders hoping for fresh demand from China.

Copyright Reuters, 2019

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