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MUMBAI: Nearly a third of India’s rice exports for this month are stuck due to a shortage of freight trains and most traders have stopped signing February export contracts to avoid demurrage charges, industry officials told Reuters.

The slowdown in exports from India, the world’s biggest rice exporter, has allowed rival suppliers such as Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam to increase overseas sales at higher prices.

Slowing exports could force the Indian government to increase procurement from farmers. Shipments of more than 500,000 tonnes of non-basmati rice that need to be transported to ports on India’s east coast from the central state of Chhattisgarh have been stuck due to the shortage of freight trains, dealers said.

They are part of around 1.5 million tonnes of rice that India had planned to export this month. “Cargoes cannot move from producing centres to ports because of freight train scarcity,” said Nitin Gupta, vice president of agricultural commodities trader Olam India’s rice business.

“There is no clarity on the availability of trains so nobody is offering fresh cargoes.” Railway authorities have diverted wagons to ship fertilizers and to serve thermal coal power plants to ensure adequate power supply this winter after power plants ran out of coal a few months ago.

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