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Red Sea Conflict may Make Basmati Rice Exports Costlier

Impact of Red Sea Conflict on Basmati Rice Exports

Analysis for a Layman

Recent developments in the Red Sea region have the potential to negatively impact India’s basmati rice exports, particularly to key markets in Europe and Africa. The ongoing tension in the Red Sea has necessitated longer shipping routes for ships carrying Indian basmati rice, as they seek to avoid the conflict zone. This longer transit results in higher freight costs, estimated at around 15-20%.

India’s overall agriculture exports, however, are still expected to reach a figure of $53 billion, matching last year’s numbers. This is due to the growth in exports of non-basmati cereals, soybeans, fruits, and vegetables, which offsets the trade restrictions imposed on wheat, rice, and sugar exports this year. Nevertheless, the Red Sea conflict adds another challenge to boosting basmati rice shipments from India, which currently dominates global supplies of this premium rice variety.

Red Sea Conflict may Make Basmati Rice Exports Costlier

Impact on Retail Investors

For retail investors, the prolonged disruption in the supply chain affecting India’s basmati rice exports can have a negative influence on agriculture-related stocks with international trade exposures. Companies like KRBL, LT Foods, and Kohinoor Foods may face margin pressures due to elevated freight expenses in the Middle East and Europe, two of their largest basmati export markets. Investors should closely monitor the resolution of the Red Sea conflict to assess the potential impact on these stocks.

However, the broader agriculture sector continues to see an uptrend driven by exports of non-cereal produce, fisheries, and organic products. Retail investors can explore opportunities in sub-segments such as poultry production (e.g., Venkys), vegetable exports (e.g., Safal), or organic farming companies under brands like NAM. These companies are expanding their export orders and benefiting from global food inflation and changing consumer preferences.

Impact on Industries

The potential disruption in the supply chain highlights India’s overreliance on convenient trade routes via the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea for accessing key export markets in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. This dependence on traditional routes creates vulnerabilities during times of conflict or disruptions. Alternative rail-sea routes through Iran, while circumventing conflict zones, come with significantly higher transit costs, making key agricultural exports less competitive.

Players across various industries, including commodities, container shipping, and ports, need to collaborate with trade bodies and regulators to create alternative logistics networks that mitigate risks and pass through the Indian Ocean, involving friendly partner countries. Strengthening the naval fleet to secure critical sea lanes should also be a priority. Achieving the goal of increasing agriculture exports to $100 billion by 2030 requires infrastructure investments in rail, roads, and ports, focused on export-oriented trade.

Long-Term Benefits & Negatives

In the long run, sustainable growth in agriculture exports necessitates comprehensive investments in hard infrastructure across the supply chain, from farms to ports. This includes improving connectivity, storage, and processing facilities. Policy reforms that foster integrated value chain partnerships involving marketing and shipping players can de-risk farmers while enhancing the speed of reaching key demand markets.

However, overreliance on limited overseas markets exposes India to geopolitical vulnerabilities, as seen during pandemic-related disruptions and conflict flare-ups. Export subsidies and incentives can distort markets and limit self-reliance incentives. While pursuing overseas trade opportunities, policymakers must also balance priorities to ensure domestic food security through affordable food for the masses. Targeted state support in critical areas can help build a robust external trade ecosystem for agriculture.

Short-Term Benefits & Negatives

In the short term, reduced basmati rice exports contribute to existing challenges faced by the agriculture sector due to global economic slowdown pressures. However, the sector’s inherent resilience provides a buffer against cyclical challenges. Segments less affected by export restrictions, such as wheat flour, soybeans, and fruits, support stability in farm incomes.

Agri logistics players bear the immediate impact of sudden trade route shifts, requiring adjustments to shipping contracts and hedging strategies. Trade adjustment support schemes can ease paperwork hassles for exporters. Nevertheless, supply constraints due to conflicts in commodity-producing regions also contribute to global price volatility, which savvy traders can leverage for favorable margins. Ensuring unhindered trade routes remains crucial for the growth of India’s flagship agricultural exports.

Potential Impact of Rising Basmati Rice Export Costs

Indian Companies Likely to Gain:

  • Logistics Companies: Companies specializing in alternate shipping routes around Africa, like Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) and Great Eastern Shipping, could see increased demand for their services and potentially higher freight rates due to the longer journey.
  • Port Operators: Ports located on the western coast of India, closer to the alternate shipping route, like Mundra Port and Adani Ports & SEZ, could see increased cargo traffic and potentially higher revenue from handling basmati rice exports.
  • Insurance Companies: Increased risk associated with the longer sea route could lead to higher insurance premiums for basmati rice shipments, benefiting companies like New India Assurance and Bajaj Allianz General Insurance.

Indian Companies Likely to Lose:

  • Basmati Rice Exporters: Companies like Kohinoor Foods, LT Foods (Daawat Basmati), and KRBL Ltd. could face higher logistics costs due to the longer shipping route, impacting their profit margins and competitiveness. This could potentially lead to lower share prices in the short term.
  • Farmers: Lower demand and potentially lower basmati rice prices due to increased export costs could negatively impact Indian farmers cultivating this variety. This could impact companies dependent on farmer supply chains, like ITC Ltd. and Tata Global Beverages.
  • Retailers: Increased basmati rice costs could translate to higher retail prices, potentially impacting demand and revenue for companies like Future Retail and Avenue Supermarts.

Global Companies:

  • Logistics Companies: Global giants like Maersk and CMA CGM could benefit from increased demand for their services through the traditional Red Sea route if Indian exporters choose to avoid the longer alternate route due to higher costs.
  • Competitors: Basmati rice producers in other countries like Pakistan and Thailand could gain market share and potentially higher prices if Indian exports become less competitive due to increased costs.

Market Sentiment:

  • Indian Logistics and Insurance Sectors: The news could lead to positive sentiment in the Indian logistics and insurance sectors due to potential business opportunities.
  • Indian Basmati Rice Industry: Negative sentiment could emerge in the Indian basmati rice industry due to concerns about lower demand and profitability.
  • Global Shipping and Rice Industries: The news might have a mixed impact on the global shipping and rice industries, depending on whether the conflict in the Red Sea disrupts shipping through that route.

It’s important to remember that this is a speculative analysis based on limited information. The actual impact on individual companies and market sentiment will depend on various factors like the duration of the conflict, changes in shipping costs and routes, and consumer demand for basmati rice.

Source: ET Bureau (2023, December 22). Red Sea Conflict may Make Basmati Rice Exports Costlier.

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