Kochi: Improved weather and prices that are more competitive than global rates have helped rubber exports bounce back to respectable levels, but international sales, expected to reach 50,000 tonnes by end-March, will still fall short of original expectations.
The Rubber Board, the government trade promotion body, initially set an export target of 70,000 tonnes for 2007-2008, but was forced to lower its sights to 25,500 tonnes after heavy rains and a spate of viral fever kept tappers off work between July and September last year.
Conditions, and production levels along with it, improved in the last two months of 2007 and the board revised its target again, this time doubling it to 50,000 tonnes for the year. India exported 56,545 tonnes in 2006-2007.
The bounce back in exports has also been aided by domestic rubber prices, which recently touched Rs101 per kg to allow exporters considerable returns while staying below the Bangkok price of Rs112 to give them an edge in international markets. Rubber prices have hovered above Rs90 per kg for the past two months and farmers have gone in for maximum tapping, said Sajen Peter, chairman of the Rubber Board.
With the tapping season nearing its close, supply is expected to be tight in the days ahead and should see more material shipped out. Till 20 February, natural rubber exports reached 38,905 tonnes and a good number of traders have contracts that should see foreign sales reach 50,000 tonnes by the end of next month.
Exports were at 29,674 tonnes at the end of January, compared with 52,272 tonnes in the same period last year, and the first 20 days of February have seen 9,231 tonnes shipped out.
Favourable weather conditions in November and December helped increase rubber production to 725,000 tonnes at the end of January 2008, which is still a drop from the 759,000 tonnes in the period from April 2006 to January 2007.
Though the board had projected a decline of about 50,000 tonnes in rubber production this year, it is likely to be around 825,000 tonnes against 853,000 tonnes in fiscal 2007.
The increased prices, however, pose a hurdle to the board’s plans to start replanting rubber trees from May, just before the monsoon. Peter feared most farmers would be unwilling to forego immediate gains by uprooting old rubber trees, as replanting will mean a wait of another five years before they got yields.