Tuesday, October 2, 2012

UAE Mulls Investing In Halal Food, Rice In Cambodia

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is considering investing in halal food production and rice milling in Cambodia, visiting UAE Minister of Foreign Trade Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi said here on Tuesday.

Speaking in a meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Peace Palace, Sheikha Lubna said her visit was to seek Cambodia's potential for investment.

The UAE minister, who also held a talk with her Cambodian counterpart Cham Prasidh on Monday, said Dubai will prepare specific plans to investment in Cambodia in halal food production and rice milling, and the products will be exported to her country, reports China's Xinhua news agency.

Sheikha Lubna said her delegation will come back to Cambodia again in May next year with the specific investment plans.

Trade volume between the UAE and Cambodia stood at US$89 million last year, up 121 percent year-on-year.

While giving his full support for Dubai's investment plans, Hun Sen expressed the belief that the trade volume would be growing fast in the future with continuous improvements in bilateral relations.

The premier said Cambodia is rich in raw materials for halal food production, adding that the project will create jobs for the Muslim community in the country.

On the rice side, he said the country produced some 8.25 million tons of paddy rice last year, but it is short of sophisticated post-harvesting technologies to process rice for exports.

B240bn approved for rice pledging scheme

The cabinet on Tuesday approved a total budget of 240 billion baht for a new round of rice price pledging, destined for the 15 million tonnes harvest due to begin this month, permanent secretary for commerce Watcharee Wimuktayon said.

The period for the new round of pledging runs from Oct 1, 2012 to Sept 15, 2013. Mortgaged rice prices were set at 15,000 baht a tonne for unmilled white rice paddy and 20,000 baht per tonne for Hom Mali (Jasmine) paddy, she said.

Mrs Watcharee said the cabinet had not discussed the pledging scheme for the second crop, which would be harvested in March next year. The government had a six-month window to reconsider the scheme.

She said the allocation of the 240 billion baht budget was based on the premise the government would receive about 40 billion baht from its current rice release.

It was expected that by the end of this year cash returns would be about 100 billion baht and, therefore, the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives would not have to raise loans to cover the entire 240 billion baht, she added.

Meanwhile, the main opposition Democrat Party said it does not believe there is only four million tonnes of rice remaining in the government stockpile.

Democrat MP for Phitsanulok Warong Dejkitwikrom said on Tuesday that Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom had not made public the true facts on the state of the rice stockpile.

There should be about 14 million tonnes of milled rice remaining in the stockpile, not four million tonnes as the minister had claimed, he said.

Mr Warong called on Mr Boonsong to clarify exactly where the rice went, and at what prices.

The opposition MP said he believed the stocked rice was secretly sold to close aides of politicians and that the rice would be mortgaged to the government’s pledging scheme again, to reap a second payment.

Mr Warong said the permanent secretary for commerce’s remark that the rice price pledging scheme was constitutional and that it was a just and fair scheme to help poor rice farmers was just not true.

Only large farmers would benefit from this scheme, not the small ones. He had visited farmers in Sukhothai and they complained bitterly that they were not paid the declared mortgage prices. Many of them had still not received the money, he said.

He defended the right of academics at the National Institute of Development (Nida) to petition the Constitution Court to issue an injunction halting the scheme. The Democrat MP said these academics were directly affected by the government’s budget spending on this programme. Therefore, they had the constitutional right to take action.

Farmers in Phitsanulok's Bang Rakam district rushed to harvest rice in mid September despite it is not yet ripe  due to flood run-off.

Members of the Farmers Network and the June 24 for Democracy group on Tuesday rallied in front of the Nida building compound in opposition to the 146 academics, led by Adis Isrankul na Ayutthaya, who petitioned the Constitution Court seeking a ruling on the constitutionality of the pledging scheme.

They issued a statement saying that they opposed the move, that they are poor farmers who have no money to hire academics to help protect their interests. They were not like the members of the Rice Traders Association, who were among the country’s richest people.

The statement said the academics admitted that they had never asked poor farmers for opinions about the scheme. This was an admission that they listened only to the other side and that the academics moved to protect only the rice traders.

It stated that the academics had no legitimacy to petition the court because they had failed to make any wide study of the impacts and benefits of the pledging scheme, particularly on farmers, who were the poorest group of people in the country.

The benefits of farmers in developed nations were well protected and they had high incomes, but some Thai academics had failed to stand side by side with Thai farmers, who were the underdogs, the statement said.

Many reporters had interviewed farmers and reported that the farmers confirmed that they benefitted from the ricre scheme, the statement said. Rice traders and rice milers stood to lose from this policy. It questioned whether the academics had taken this into account.

The statement asked the academics whether they saw themselves as opponents of the government, which gained a landslide victory in the general election. The academics had never moved against any government formed by the military camp.

The farmers' statement asked whether the movement by the academics was aimed at giving the justice system more power over the government elected by the majority of the people.

Songchai Wimolphattranont, a representative of the June 24 for Democracy group, said the academics were attempting to use the charter to minimise the authority of the government.

“If there is any problem with the government’s policy, the parliamentary system should be used to address and settle it,” he said.

SL Agritech enters regional pact on rice production and marketing

Hybrid rice producer SL Agritech Corp. on Tuesday said it signed deals with companies from Thailand, Myanmar, and Singapore on rice production and marketing in Asia.
A memorandum of understanding – a first in agriculture among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – signed last month in Manila, covers a regional cooperation toward contributing specific expertise for the benefit of the venture.
Involved in the deal are Thailand’s Capital Rice International Co. (CRIC), IBTC Group of Companies-Myanmar, and Singapore-registered Radiant Stone Pte. Ltd.
A company listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange and owned by Filipino-Chine Julio Sy of the Tao Group,  Radiant Stone finance the venture as corporate investor.
“We have this opportunity to form an ASEAN joint venture where the Philippines takes the lead in hybrid rice technology,” said SL Agritech president and CEO Henry Lim.
 “We already own SL-8H trademarks in several Asian countries But this MOA offers opportunities for us to export to the big markets,” he added.
The agreement calls for SL Agritech to develop a hybrid rice variety using Myanmar's own germplasm, and made accessible through Los BaƱos, Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute.
SL Agritech will also lend IBTC a hand in producing hybrid rice seed in Myanmar in exchange for royalty payments. Myanmar has no existing commercial hybrid rice variety.
According to SL Agritech, a feasibility study will be available in December 2012 to determine the optimum area of planting and other profit-making opportunities.  
Once all documents required for an investment proposal, rice planting  is expected to start in Myanmar on January 15, 2013.
"We have five months at the start of 2013 to plant before the monsoon crop (in May or June)," said Myanmar’s U Aung Moe Kyaw.
A subsidiary of Myanmar’s International Sun Moon Star Agricultural Ltd., IBTC is one of Myanmar’s biggest beverage firms.
Around 30 years ago, Myanmar – then known as Burma – was the world’s largest exporter of rice. As the second last country in Southeast Asia, it has 
An estimated 6.14 million hectares of land for rice cultivation – or more than twice the area planted to rice in the Philippines.
Accounting for 20 percent of Thailand's total rice exports, CRIC offers the opportunity to export the commodity to big buyers like China and Indonesia, according to SL Agritech.
CRIC’s role in the regional venture is to determine the best model for marketing hybrid rice.
"There’s a big market for white rice in Asia. China has imported 1.4 million tons so far this year,” said CRIC director Anant Pitchetpongsa, noting that “Indonesia normally imports 500,000 to one million tons."

Thailand extends expensive rice subsidy scheme

The Thai Cabinet has extended a rice-buying scheme that has been plagued by complaints of corruption and threatens the country's long-time reign as the world's top rice exporter.

The Cabinet on Tuesday approved a tentative budget of 240 billion baht ($7.8 billion) to buy 15 million tons of rice at above-market prices from farmers for another year.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the subsidies have raised the incomes of Thai farmers. She vowed to solve corruption in the program.
The scheme, which started last year, is popular in the north and northeastern strongholds of Yingluck's party.

But critics said it had caused a plunge in Thailand's rice exports due to the high price guarantee at home. Vietnam is expected to surpass Thailand as the world's biggest rice exporter this year.

Rice exporters to target $2.5b in exports

LAHORE: The Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) has decided to prepare a road map to explore and enter new markets in a bid to boost rice exports.

“We should focus on long-term planning with short-term targets to enhance Basmati exports. Keeping in view the challenges and opportunities for rice exporters, REAP will focus on Vision 2020 as a first initiative for our long-term planning,” newly-elected REAP chairman Javed Ali Ghori said while delivering his speech to the body’s 14th Annual General Meeting.

“We will soon send delegations to different countries to explore new markets for Pakistani Basmati rice,” Ghori said. “Our initial target will be to increase our exports to $2.5 billion, from the current $2 billion,” he said.

Rice exports from Pakistan in fiscal 2012 crossed 3.7 million tons, valued at $2.08 billion at an average price of $871 per ton for Basmati rice, and $448 per ton for non-Basmati rice.

“It is an achievement that despite tough international competition with India – which reduced prices by up to $200 per ton – rice exports from Pakistan managed to cross 3.7 million tons,” said Safdar Mehkari, outgoing REAP chairman.

“We focussed on new markets for Pakistani rice,” he said. “We have worked with concerned government authorities for rice exports to India, Iran and other countries. Rice imported into India is subjected to around 70% import duties and taxes, while this is about 14% in Pakistan, he said. “A level tariff between the two countries is essential. REAP has suggested a zero import duty between the two countries,” he added.

“In order to boost rice exports from Pakistan to Mauritius, and upon request by Pakistan’s High Commission in Mauritius, REAP acceded to the Mauritius authorities’ request to train their staff in order to build their capacity in Basmati rice testing. Officials will soon visit Pakistan in this regard,” Mehkari said.

“To secure REAP members against the risks of exporting rice to Iran, the body met with the State Bank governor in April in Karachi to finalise modalities which will also safeguard Pakistan and its financial system’s interests, he said. “We are hopeful that we will soon start rice export to Iran.”

“The production of ‘Super Basmati’ rice has reduced drastically, so we need to prioritise this matter for the betterment of trade. Meetings have been conducted with the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology to encourage scientists to produce Super Basmati seed of high yield and quality. A MoU in this regard will soon be finalised,” Mehkari added.

“The government should provide subsidies to paddy farmers for better quality yields. India provides around $30 billion in subsidies to its farming sector every year through subsidised Urea/DAP fertiliser, and cheap electricity for tube wells,” Mehkari suggested.