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Thai commerce minister hints rice prices
Bangkok Post, November 10, 2004
Commerce Minister Watana Muangsook has suggested to exporters that they set a floor price for rice at US$ 300 per tonne or otherwise face severe losses.

The minister told a number of rice traders yesterday that he planned to shore up local rice prices to above 9,900 baht a tonne (about $ 242) for quality grade white rice, from the current level of 9,750 baht, and that he expected exporters to buy and sell the grain at higher prices.

He said that starting in the middle of next month, the Commerce Ministry would buy as much as 2.5 million tonnes of rice for the government stocks as well as export some to a buyer that he declined to name.

He added that rice prices would continue to stay at high levels through next year due to dry conditions that would result in a decline in paddy output next year by one million tonnes to 26 million.

But rice traders yesterday expressed concern that the initiative of the Commerce Ministry to raise local rice prices -- an election is due early next year -- could hurt the industry's competitiveness in the global market, especially compared to exports from Vietnam and China.

Pramote Vanichanont, the president of the Thai Rice Mills Association, said rice prices should be based on market demand.

"I wonder whether we could conclude any deals at $ 300 a tonne if Vietnam offers the same rice grade at a cheaper price of $ 220 a tonne," he said.

Mr Pramote warned the minister not to use this year's enormous exports, potentially 10 million tonnes, as a basis for setting policy next year.

"The soaring export prices stemmed mainly from a global shortage," he said.

Thai rice exports amounted to 8.31 million tonnes in the first 10 months of this year. Export prices of Thai 100 percent grade rice surged to $ 252-256 per tonne last month, compared with $ 200-204 per tonne around this period last year.

Vichai Sriprasert, president of the Rice Exporters Association, said in a separate interview that with the sale of more than two million tonnes of rice kept in government warehouses early this year, Thai rice exports would reach a record 10 million tonnes this year, up from 7.3 million tonnes in 2003. Aside from drought, a drop in shipments from many rice-exporting countries has lifted demand for Thai rice exports.

Rice shipments globally in the first 10 months of this year dropped significantly when compared with last year. On this basis, the United States exported 2.47 million tonnes compared with 3.22 million, India shipped 2.34 million tonnes compared with 4.38 million, Pakistan shipped 1.46 million tonnes compared with 1.63 million and China exported only 769,000 tonnes against 2.29 million.

Vietnam, on the other hand, has boosted its rice exports this year, shipping 3.88 million tonnes in the first 10 months compared with 3.49 million tonnes for all of last year.

However, Mr Vichai noted that the price of Thai rice has the potential to reach $ 300 a tonne depending on whether or not the El Nino weather phenomenon returns this year.

"We should look at the export volume this month. If it drops, it could be an indication that the high-price policy is not the right one," Mr Vichai said.
MGR Archive 11.11.2004
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