9 Oct, 2012
Thailand could lose its status as the top exporter of fragrant rice next year if it does not improve quality, warns the Thai Rice Exporters Association (TREA).
This is because farmers are no longer very interested in quality since they can now sell whatever they plant to the government, he said.
"Thailand has always been the top exporter of fragrant rice, but now there are many competitors including Vietnam and Cambodia," said Mr Chookiat, adding that Cambodian rice has about the same quality as Thai rice, and indeed the two are often planted in close proximity to each other.
But Thailand's fragrant rice is relatively expensive, costing at least US$1,100 per tonne compared with $650 for Vietnamese rice and $900 for Cambodian rice.
"Now that we're creating an opportunity for other countries to increase their market share, governments are encouraging their farmers to increase production," said Mr Chookiat.
Last year, Thailand shipped 196,426 tonnes of Pathum Thani fragrant rice and 2.31 million tonnes of Hom Mali rice, said the TREA.
In the first eight months of this year, the country exported 53,985 tonnes of Pathum Thani fragrant rice and 1.16 million tonnes of Hom Mali, down significantly from 158,431 tonnes and 1.6 million tonnes, respectively, in the same period last year.
In the same period, Thailand exported 4.45 million tonnes of all types of rice, a steep drop from 8.17 million tonnes in the same period last year.
Exporters predict the full-year figure excluding government-to-government contracts will total 6.5 million tonnes worth $4.4 billion, down from 10.6 million tonnes valued at $6.39 billion last year.
This forecast could signal the end of Thailand's 30-year reign as the world's top rice exporter.
Mr Chookiat said exports next year should be similar to this year if the government fails to sell all the rice it now has in stock.
In a related development, Pornsil Patcharintanakul, deputy secretary-general of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said if the government does not restructure the country's food and agriculture sectors, then the private sector will have to invest abroad due to too many restrictions at home.