BANGKOK – Thailand’s Commerce Ministry has confirmed that it is to sell 400,000 tonnes of rice from its stockpiles to China in a deal that will provide funds to help the government pay farmers who have been protesting in Bangkok because a state rice-buying program has run out of money.
On Feb. 4, China scrapped a deal to buy 1.2 million tonnes of rice because of an investigation by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NAAC) into the transparency of various deals between Thailand and China.
However, Commerce Minister Niwathamrong Boonsongpaisan said earlier this week another deal was on the cards and he confirmed it to reporters on Friday.
“We have been informed by the director general of the Department of Foreign Trade that China is willing to purchase Thai rice under a government-to-government deal at a quantity of 400,000 tonnes. We initially expect an agreement to be signed in March,” he said.
Further details were not available, and it was unclear why China would be agreeing to another Thai rice purchase.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was formally served on Thursday with charges of negligence relating to the rice subsidy program, which has left hundreds of thousands of farmers unpaid and cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
The price paid by the government for rice from October 2011 made the grain uncompetitive on world markets, and sales from the program could not generate enough funds to keep it going.
Money had to be found from the government budget but access to funds has been made difficult by Thailand’s political crisis.
A general election was held on Feb. 2 but was disrupted by anti-government protesters, leaving a caretaker administration with limited powers to borrow or use government funds for the rice scheme.
The government is now making some progress in selling rice and raising money to pay farmers.
The Commerce Ministry sold 600,000 tonnes of rice from its stocks this month and a second tender for 500,000 tonnes has just been completed. No results were available on Friday.
The ministry is also selling smaller amounts on the Agricultural Futures Exchange of Thailand.
Niwathamrong said the government expected to generate 8 billion Thai baht ($245 million) per month from sales.
On Thursday, the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), which manages the rice-buying scheme, said it had paid farmers 67.5 billion baht for rice bought during the main 2013/14 crop from October, with 112 billion still outstanding. ($1 = 32.60 Thai baht)