Iraq Grain Board Seeks Meeting With Thailand on Rice Import Ban

Iraq’s Grain Board, a state trading agency, plans to meet 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. Thailand, once the world’s biggest shipper, is seeking to increase sales to cut 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.

“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,” said Ibrahim. “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.

Iraq halted purchases from Thailand in the second half of 2013, said Chookiat Ophaswongse, 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.

South Africa

“We’ve lost the Iraqi market to more expensive grain from the U.S. and Uruguay,” said Chookiat. 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 more than doubled imports from Thailand last year to 919,041 tons to become the top buyer, according to the exporters’ association. South Africa increased purchases by 14 percent and ranked third after Benin and Iraq.

“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.

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