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Chutima wants next in line to zero in on crop prices

Ms Chutima says her successor should continue the existing government's measures to develop the rice sector and go easy on subsidies.

The next commerce minister is being urged to focus on farm price stability through the principle of minimal intervention and continue the existing integrated rice development plan and demand-driven production strategy.

Acting commerce minister Chutima Bunyapraphasara said yesterday at her last press conference that under Thailand's rice strategy and the existing demand-driven production strategy during 2015-19, the country's rice sector has developed positively.

Rice quality has improved, she said, and new varieties such as Kor Khor 43 white rice and coloured rice such as riceberry have been introduced.

The existing government has launched programmes for farmers to increase their efficiency while reducing production costs, built up fair trade in the rice market and promoted value-added farm products in a bid to stabilise prices, Ms Chutima said.

"In the past five years, the government has solved and laid down the foundation for Thai rice development in the long term," she said. "The Thai rice industry has succeeded in upgrading quality and becoming more widely acknowledged by consumers, to the extent that Thai rice export volume hit a record high of 11 million tonnes last year and helped stabilise domestic paddy prices. The innovation and development of rice varieties and products will help sustain Thai rice's competitiveness in the world market."

According to Ms Chutima, since 2014 the Prayut Chan-o-cha government has paid special attention to managing the state's massive rice stocks, which amounted to 18.7 million tonnes accumulated by previous governments.

The existing government succeeded in selling 16.177 million tonnes, leaving just 900,000 tonnes in state stocks. The Rice Policy and Management Committee in May assigned the Public Warehouse Organization and the Market Organization for Farmers to help auction off the rest by July 31.

Ms Chutima said that if the new government adopts the income guarantee programme as campaigned on by the Democrat Party (a member of the new coalition government), the guaranteed prices should not be much higher than the market price, as such a practice would distort the market.

If the price is too high, the burden will fall on the government to tackle the problem and the situation will be no different from the failed rice-pledging schemes of the past, she said.

Ms Chutima suggested the new government speed up trade negotiations to have more free trade agreements and expand trade and investment to offset the slowing global economy and mounting trade protectionism.

The first priority is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, she said.

"The Commerce Ministry's existing officials are already a good and smart working team, while the trade specialists in the ministry can render support to the new commerce minister," Ms Chutima said.

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