A state trading agency, Iraq’s Grain Board, plans for meeting Thai officials soon after halting purchases of rice, said Acting Director General Hassan Ibrahim.
The country will not buy Thai grain until the quality improves, said Ibrahim who is based in Baghdad. No date has been set for a visit to Bangkok, he said by phone on Feb. 16. Iraq ranked second as an importer of Thai rice in 2013, according to the Thai Rice Exporters Association.
It is noteworthy that Thailand was once world’s biggest shipper. However, the country is presently looking for increasing sales for cutting record reserves built by its program to buy the crop from farmers at above market rates. The policy that started in 2011 created inventories big enough to meet a third of global demand.
Mr. Ibrahim said, “I have myself told the Thai officials and asked them several times to improve the quality and the accuracy of the weight they ship to Iraq,” adding that, “They failed to meet our request so we couldn’t continue to buy rice from them.”
The price of Thai 5 percent broken white rice, a benchmark grade, tumbled 23 percent last year and was at $460 a metric ton as of Feb. 12. Total exports dropped 1.8 percent last year to 6.6 million tons, according to the exporters’ association, trailing shipments from India and Vietnam.
From the second half of 2013, Iraq has halted its purchases from Thailand, as mentioned by Chookiat Ophaswongse. He is the honorary president of the exporters association. Thailand could have sold about 300,000 tons to 400,000 tons more to Iraq last year without the ban, he said today by phone from Bangkok.
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Mr. Chookiat said, “We’ve lost the Iraqi market to more expensive grain from the U.S. and Uruguay.” Rice from both countries is about $60 a ton more expensive than Thai rice, he said.
Not everyone is shunning grain from the Southeast Asian nation. Benin has doubled imports from Thailand last year to 919,041 tons to become the top buyer, according to the exporters’ association. After Benin and Iraq, it is South Africa, which ranks third with purchases by 14 percent.
“There is no quality issue with Thai rice,” said Jac Luyendijk, chief executive officer at SAT Swiss Agri Trading AG, which handles about $300 million worth of rice a year including supply from Thailand. “As long as you buy from well-established exporters, it’s OK,” he said by phone.
Thailand is selling 1 million tons of rice per month in the first quarter to raise funds for farmers in the price-support program that began in October 2011 under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The Southeast Asian nation is awaiting a new government after the Feb. 2 election was disrupted by protesters demanding Yingluck step down.