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Thai Jasmine Rice Grown in Cambodia Raises Eyebrows
Bangkok Post, May 12, 2004
Farmers and rice mill operators yesterday blasted the government for turning a blind eye on moves by some companies to shift jasmine rice cultivation to neighbouring countries, hurting the domestic industry.
"The Agriculture and Commerce ministries should be blamed for allowing a giant agro-industry company to grow Khao Hom Mali 105 rice in Cambodia and Burma because rice from these countries will seize Thailand's rice export market in the near future," said Pramote Vanichanont, president of the Thai Rice Mills Association.

Mr Pramote declined to identify the company in question. But sources said the CP Group, the country's largest agribusiness company, had supported the initiative.

Local rice growers say the plan is becoming all the more suspicious after Commerce Minister Watana Muangsook last week floated an unconventional plan to allow duty-free imports of up to 1.5 million tonnes of rice from Cambodia, Laos and Burma.
The plan, which would import rice only for re-export, has been strongly opposed by local rice industry executives, who say it would push prices downwards and hurt local farmers.

Others argue that importing low-grade rice could affect Thailand's international reputation as a supplier of quality rice.

The Thai Farmers Association, Thai Rice Mills Association, and the Rice Exporters Association yesterday held a joint press conference to protest against the import plan.

The three associations, led by former agriculture minister Praphat Photasuthon, submitted a petition to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra calling on the government to scrap the plan. They have also threatened to stage protests across the country if the Commerce Ministry insists on carrying out its plan.

Speaking at the conference, Mr Pramote said it was likely that the initiative favoured large agribusiness companies that had invested in growing Hom Mali 105, or jasmine rice, in adjacent countries.

Tests on rice sold in a Cambodian market under the brand Angkor Kasekam Roongroeung showed that it actually was 100 percent Hom Mali 105 rice, Thailand's most popular rice strain, he said.

Mr Pramote also called on the Agriculture and Commerce ministries to work more closely in formulating the country's rice policy.

"The country's lax rice policy results from a lack of co-operation between the two ministries. The local rice industry would have been better protected if the commerce minister consulted more with the agriculture minister as well as rice farmers and millers," he said.

Chakan Saengraksawong, director-general of the Agriculture Department, said smuggling of rice seeds out of the country for commercial purposes was a violation of the Plant Varieties Act, which bans the import and export of protected plant varieties, including Thai rice strains.

"The department will conduct DNA tests on rice grown in Cambodia to prove whether it is the Hom Mali 105 strain. If the test is positive, we will find out who breached the law and brought the rice variety to Cambodia," said Mr Chakan.

Witoon Lianchamroon, the director of Biothai, a non-governmental organisation that promotes the conservation of native plant varieties, said exchanges of rice varieties between the two countries was a common practice.

But he said it was "unacceptable" if the rice strain had been grown commercially to profit only a few companies.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Ministry today plans to sign agreements to sell 1.74 million tonnes of rice worth 17 billion baht to President Agri Trading Co despite questions about the legitimacy of the contract.

The deal had been approved by Mr Watana, who serves as chairman of a sub-committee for rice sales on the Rice Policy Committee. President Agri was the only winner among 20 contenders for the deal.

Nobpasul Angkathavanich, president of the Public Warehouse Organisation (PWO), the marketing arm for the ministry, said President Agri Trading was fully qualified to submit its bids.

Questions have been raised about the deal after it was found that the rice stock included those held by Siam Kasikij, a subsidiary of President Agri currently under police investigation over irregularities dealing with the state rice mortgage programme.

Apichat Chansakulporn, managing director of President Agri Trading, an affiliate of the Saha Group conglomerate, said the bidding process was completely transparent.

He said his company had offered the best terms and deserved to win the deal to sell the stocks held by the government through its price-support programme.

President Agri offered US$ 242 a tonne for 100 percent B grade rice, $ 239 for 5 percent grade and $ 237 for 10 percent grade, or around $ 10 per tonne more than competing bids.
MGR Archive 12.5.2004
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