Thailand lost its three-decades-old title as the world's top rice exporter last year, falling behind India and Vietnam, industry sources said Friday.
Vietnam on Thursday announced that its rice exports for 2012 reached 7.6 million tons, up 10 per cent year-on-year. India's rice exports last year exceeded 9.5 million tons, according to US Department of Agriculture figures.
Thailand exported 6.9 million in 2012, down 35.5 per cent from the 10.7 million tons it shipped in 2011, according to the Thai Rice Exporters Association's and commerce ministry's latest figures.
Of the 6.9 million tons, some 1.7 million were registered as government-to-government deals, which the private-sector association has questioned.
“The only government-to-government deal we saw evidence of was a 300,000 shipment to Indonesia in early 2012,” said Chookiat Ophaswongse, the association's honorary president. “The other deals are still a mystery to us since we've seen no records of them.”
The exporters' association blamed the country's drop in exports on the government's so-called paddy pledging scheme, under which it has agreed to buy unhusked white rice from farmers at a fixed price of 15,000 (484 dollars) per ton, and high-quality jasmine at 20,000 baht per ton.
The scheme was one of the ruling Pheu Thai party's populist policies used to win the July, 2011 general election. The government has said it will continue the scheme throughout 2013 as it benefits farmers.
Since it started the scheme in October, 2010, the government has stockpiled of more than 10 million tons of rice, while the price of Thai rice rose 100 to 200 dollars above its competitors on the international market.
The World Bank last month estimated that Thailand would lose 115 billion baht (3.7 billion dollars) on last year's stockpiled rice if it was forced to sell at today's prices.
The bank has predicted that the average world price for rice will fall from 580 dollars per ton last year to 520 dollars this year, since production of the staple food crop has increased, especially in India and China.
“I think this year China will import less and India will continue to export, so the competition will be tough and Thailand will be left hanging,” Chookiat said. - Sapa-dpa