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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    5 October 2012

7m tonnes of Thai rice sold for export


The Thai government yesterday announced it has sold as much as 7 million tonnes of rice to other countries - mostly under government-to-government deals - but it declined to discuss the export figures in detail.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the Commerce Ministry has entered into agreements for rice exports. However, she added that the shipments of the rice would be done soon and therefore no export figures were available.

"The deliveries will be gradual. The whole 7 million tonnes will not be shipped at once," Yingluck said at the Parliament building. She then referred to her commerce minister to answer further questions.

She wore a tense expression when dealing with the media on the rice issue.

On Tuesday, Virabongsa Ramangkura, who is considered the government’s chief economic adviser, warned that the government should swiftly scrap the expensive and corruption-plagued rice-pledging scheme, or "the country will be doomed".

Yingluck said yesterday that she was not angry with Virabongsa for criticising the rice policy.

"Everybody has the right to be concerned. We have the duty to explain," she said. "We listen to all the advice, but the government has the mechanism for scrutiny."

She said rice from the government stockpile was sold to foreign governments "at suitable prices", based on world market prices. She added that if the rice were sold locally, the government would not get as good a price.

Virabongsa is chairman of the Bank of Thailand and a key member of the government's Strategic Formulation Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development.

Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyaphirom insisted yesterday that there was nothing wrong with the sale of 7 million tonnes of rice. "There should be no worries about this."

Boonsong said the Cabinet has assigned Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung to head a team to investigate graft allegations in the rice-pledging programme. "We are doing whatever we can, so don't worry," he added.

In response to the opposition's allegations that most of the rice from the government's stocks were sold inside the country, the commerce minister said

the rice sales were in fact in the form of government-to-government export deals. "Many countries have entered into agreements with us," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong also vouched for the rice-pledging project yesterday, saying "it is a good policy".

Kittiratt said he believed that Virabongsa also had confidence in the policy although Virabongsa was concerned that poor handling of the project could lead to unexpectedly negative results.

The finance minister also said if the government were serious about tackling corruption, those involved in the graft would be discouraged.

Meanwhile, exporters say there have been no government-to-government orders, which could pull down export prices for the remaining months of this year.

Chookiat Ophaswongse, honorary president of Thai Rice Exporters Association, said that as of yesterday, there have been no government-to-government rice exports. Thai rice exports reached 550,000 tonnes last month, all by the private sector, Chookiat said. And there's not yet any sign of the government's plans for rice exports from October to December.

"If there are going to be exports as claimed, there should be preparation of sacks and other related materials in advance, but things have been quiet in the market," said Chookiat.

"Countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, which the government claims have made purchases, have also denied any deals, saying that they have not imported any Thai rice," he said.

Chookiat added that the government has stated China will purchase 2 million tonnes of rice at the price of US$500 per tonne. In fact, China will purchase from if the government if the price is discounted to $460 to $470 per tonne, which comes close to the $440 per tonne that Vietnam offered Beijing. Or, China would broker a barter deal for Thai rice, Chookiat said.

However, Boonsong insisted that the government would export between 1.8 million and 2 million tonnes of rice before the end of the year.

"We have government-to-government agreements with Indonesia but we are negotiating with the Philippines. We cannot give more details on the agreements and volumes as it is a sensitive issue to international relationships," Boonsong said.

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This year in Thailand-what next?

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