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Shortages and high prices for all kinds of food have caused tensions and even violence around the world in recent months. Since January, thousands of troops have been deployed in Pakistan to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Protests have erupted in Indonesia over soybean shortages, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.
Food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. But the moves by rice-exporting nations over the last two days — meant to ensure scarce supplies will meet domestic needs — drove prices on the world market even higher this week.
The increase in rice prices internationally promised to put more pressure on prices in the United States, which imports more than 30 percent of the rice Americans consume, according to the United States Rice Producers Association. The price that consumers pay for rice has already increased more than 8 percent over the last year.
But the United States is fortunate in also exporting rice;
Vietnam’s government announced here on Friday that it would cut rice exports by nearly a quarter this year. The government hoped that keeping more rice inside the country would hold down prices.
The same day, India effectively banned the export of all but the most expensive grades of rice. Egypt announced on Thursday that it would impose a six-month ban on rice exports, starting April 1, and on Wednesday, Cambodia banned all rice exports except by government agencies.
At the same time, prices set in international rice trading now have an increasingly important effect on prices within countries. This has been particularly true in an age of Internet and mobile phone communications when even farmers in remote areas can learn about distant prices and decide whether their own buyers are giving them a fair price.
... Thai exporters have already practically stopped signing delivery contracts, Mr. Savage said.
Even before Friday’s export restrictions by Vietnam and India, bids for commonly traded grades of Thai medium-grain rice had doubled this year to $735 a metric ton. ...
Governments have been reluctant to tell farmers to sell their rice at low fixed prices, for fear that farmers would hoard rice or not bother to grow as much as they could. On Friday, China, which is virtually self-sufficient in rice, raised the minimum prices for rice and wheat that it guarantees to farmers.