Iraq to end Thai rice ban

Iraq is set to resume buying Thai rice after halting purchases for almost a year on concerns about quality.

Surasak Riangkrul, director-general of the Foreign Trade Department, said after a trip to Iraq to reconfirm the quality of Thai rice with Iraqi Trade Minister Khairallah Hassan Babiker that the Middle East state has pledged to resume importing Thai rice, a move that is likely to boost rice exports this year.

Iraq is one of the world's largest importers of wheat and rice, much of which goes to supply a national food rationing programme.

Normally, Iraq will issue a tender for 20,000 to 30,000 tonnes of rice a month.

Iraq purchased about 845,000 tonnes from Thailand in 2012 but stopped in the second half of last year due to quality concerns.

Despite the halt, Thai exporters still managed to ship 703,869 tonnes to Iraq in 2013.

Exporters earlier said Thailand could have sold 300,000 to 400,000 tonnes more to Iraq last year without the halt.

Mr Surasak said once Thai rice exporters are allowed to participate in Iraq's rice import tenders, Thailand will regain more than half the total amount Iraq previously imported from Thailand.

Moreover, Iraq is highly likely to open talks for rice purchases from Thailand via a government-to-government (G-to-G) contract, he said.

Mr Surasak said apart from Iraq, other countries are interested in G-to-G deals.

China and Malaysia have proposed buying a combined 600,000 tonnes of Thai rice, while the US is looking at purchasing more than 1 million tonnes, he said.

Thailand is also planning to participate in a tender closing next Tuesday to supply 800,000 tonnes of rice to the Philippines, but Vietnam is expected to win the bulk of this tender.

"Despite the government not being eligible to participate in this tender, authorities have cooperated with Thai exporters to join the tender to be held on April 15," said Mr Surasak.

"We're confident that Thai exporters will win at least a half of the tenders or about 400,000 tonnes."

Results of the tender held by the Philippines will be announced next Wednesday.

As of last Friday, Thailand this year has exported 2.11 million tonnes of rice, up by 28.7% year-on-year.

But in terms of value, exports fell by 6.66% to US$1.1 billion.

In a related development, the Commerce Ministry yesterday put up a combined 429,327 tonnes of state rice stocks for auction.

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