Thailand and Vietnam should jointly raise rice prices to boost their bargaining power in the global market, according to Thai premier Prayuth Chan-Ocha, a move that threatens higher food costs for consumers worldwide.
Such a step will benefit millions of rice farmers in the two countries who have struggled with rising costs while prices of the grain have remained subdued, Prayuth’s spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said in a statement. Vietnam’s Deputy Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Tran Thanh Nam met with Thai officials Thursday to discuss a framework for cooperation.
The threat to boost rice prices from the two major exporters comes amid growing food protectionism and run-away inflation. There’s concern that India may restrict rice exports after similar moves in wheat and sugar, upending global food markets already roiled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While Thailand is not contemplating any curbs on shipments, it’s keen to milk the opportunity as import-dependent countries seek to lock in grain supplies.
“It sounds good to say that but it’s nearly impossible to implement,” Chookiat Ophaswongse, honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said of the proposed move. “We are not the only two sellers in the market.”
There’s also the issue about quality that makes it difficult to control the market. Rice has to be sold shortly after harvest or its quality will deteriorate, Chookiat said. “The effective cooperation we can do with Vietnam should be in terms of improving production and transferring know-how.”
Rice has been the one staple grain that’s helping to keep the world food crisis from getting worse. Unlike wheat and corn, which have seen prices skyrocket as the war in Ukraine disrupts supplies from a major breadbasket, rice prices have been stable subdued due to ample production and existing stockpiles.
Rice prices will remain subdued because of abundant supplies with the world set to harvest record crops until 2023, said Jeremy Zwinger, chief executive officer of The Rice Trader, a researcher. While there has been some shift in demand to rice as animal feed, it wasn’t enough to send prices soaring, Zwinger said, adding supplies may ease once farmers start using less fertilizer because of high prices.
Thailand is the world’s No. 2 rice exporter and Vietnam is the third. Combined, they account for a quarter of global rice trade. India is the largest with a 40% market share. China, the Philippines and Nigeria are top importers.
Thailand’s rice exports are benefiting from a rebound in global demand as the pandemic eases and a slump in its currency to a five-year low makes its supplies more competitive. Shipments may reach as high as 8 million tons this year, up from 6.1 million tons last year, Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit told reporters on Friday.
Thai sugar and chickens exports are also set to benefit from export curbs placed by India and Malaysia respectively, according to industry officials. The Southeast Asian nation “has excess supply of most foods we produce and we remain the kitchen of the world,” Arada Fuangtong, deputy director general of the Department of International Trade Promotion, told reporters.