RPT-Asia Rice-Locked-down India rates hit 3-month low; Thai prices off 6-1/2-yr peaks

By Sumita Layek

(Repeats with no changes to text)

* Vietnam halts new rice export contracts until March 28

* Thai rates fall to $468-$495/tonne from $480-$505 last week

* India under 21-day nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus

* Bangladesh domestic rice prices up 10% on panic-buying

By Sumita Layek

BENGALURU, March 27 (Reuters) - A nationwide lockdown in leading rice exporter India to curtail the spread of the coronavirus pushed export prices to the lowest in about three months, while rates for the Thai variety came off multi-year peaks due to fluctuations in the local currency.

Health researchers have warned that more than a million people in India could be infected with the coronavirus by mid-May, prompting the government to order a 21-day lockdown and shut down all air and train travel, businesses and schools.

India's 5% broken parboiled variety <RI-INBKN5-P1> rates narrowed to $361-$365 per tonne this week - their lowest since late December - as rice exporters were struggling to operate due to the lockdown. Prices slipped from last week's $363-$367 range.

The entire supply chain has been disrupted by the lockdown, said BV Krishna Rao, president of the Rice Exporters Association.

Indian rupee hit a record low this week, raising exporters' margin from the overseas sale.

In Thailand, benchmark 5% broken rice rates <RI-THBKN5-P1> fell to $468-$495 on Thursday, from last week's 6-1/2-year peak of $480-$505.

The drop in price was due to fluctuations in the currency, while the situation over demand-and-supply remained relatively unchanged, traders said.

The Thai market remained cautious over supply issues, triggered by one of the worst droughts in decades that is hurting many rice-growing areas, while traders said the outbreak has also slightly raised domestic demand of some types of rice, keeping prices higher.

The Thai government has declared a state of emergency across the country over the coronavirus, but is yet to issue any restrictions that would directly impact agricultural production or exports.

"There won't be any shortage of rice through the crisis, but prices are likely to remain high due to concerns over supply," a Bangkok-based trader said, adding prices could go even higher if there is overseas demand given that Vietnam has stopped exports.

Vietnam's 5% broken rice <RI-VNBKN5-P1> rates were not available after the government on Wednesday announced it halted signing new export contracts until March 28 under a review to ensure domestic supplies were sufficient during the epidemic.

"Traders and exporters have ceased all activities and the authorities have also stopped customs clearance for rice shipments from Vietnam," a Ho Chi Minh City-based trader said.

Traders said they were waiting for a final decision from the government to see if they can continue exports or not.

Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, domestic prices of rice rose by as much as 10% as virus fears triggered panic-buying.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday called on people to refrain from stockpiling and said the country has 1.7 million tonnes of food grains in reserves. (Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai, Khanh Vu in Hanoi, Panu Wongcha-um in Bangkok and Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)