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Reaction rates are positive quantities by convention, to consistently denote the rate at which a reaction is proceeding. It is true that the concentration of reactants is decreasing while the concentration of products is increasing in a forward reaction, but this all plays into the forward reaction rate, which will always be positive.
I think it is positive just by the rules of kinetics. The forward reaction is always positive while the backward reaction is negative. Think of them as opposites and the forward reaction was made the standard. The backward reaction is negative because it is the opposite of the standard.
It's almost like slowing down while running. Although you have slowed down, you are still moving forward, you wouldn't be going backwards. Similar to this, reaction rates are always positive because in a forward reaction, the reaction does not go backwards.
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