BANGKOK – Thailand’s Deputy Commerce Minister Nattawut Saikua denied allegations that Cambodian rice was traded in large quantity under the government’s nationwide rice program.
Nattawut on Tuesday categorically denied the allegations that as much as 700,000 tons of Cambodian rice have been smuggled into Thai territory and traded under the rice program currently carried out by the government led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai (For Thais) party.
According to Nattawut, the 700,000 tons of rice supposedly smuggled from Cambodia would need some 35,000 heavy-duty trucks to transport to Thailand.
“It would be impossible for this huge quantity of rice not to be detected by ordinary citizens,” Nattawut said, adding that government critics are just misleading the public.
Thai authorities ranging from the Public Warehouse Organization and authorized rice surveyors to the police, Customs officials and provincial government personnel, especially those attached to Thai border areas, would already have stopped the alleged cross-border smuggling of rice and arrested the smugglers had such illegal shipment occurred indeed, Nattawut said.
“All the rice which will be traded under the Thai rice program needs to be officially documented as to the definite quantity of the crop for sale, the size of the rice-producing farm, and the farmer’s registration. It’s not that easy for anyone to smuggle hundreds of thousands of tons of rice from the neighboring country, using thousands of 10-wheel trucks to load and unload and to be sold anywhere in the country,” he said.
Nattawut was reacting to criticisms earlier launched by the opposition in Parliament charging that large volumes of Cambodian rice had been smuggled into Thailand and later declared as Thai rice and traded under the rice program.
Under the government’s rice program, farmers can directly sell their rice to government units for 15,000 baht (500 U.S. dollars) a ton. The buying price of rice from extra-crop season will be cut to 12,000 baht (400 dollars) a ton by the end of September.
According to opposition MPs, certain Thai government officials had allegedly connived with rogue traders who had smuggled Cambodian rice through border areas in Thailand’s eastern provinces of Sakaew and Chantaburi as well as those of the country ‘s lower northeastern region.
Nattawut said that if indeed there was rice smuggled from Cambodia, this would be in small quantities. He added that the government is now trying to track down these unscrupulous traders who might have taken advantage of the rice program and bring them to justice.
He lamented that these groundless allegations had jeopardized the worldwide reputation of the Thai rice, which is exported to large parts of the world and in the process has slandered the Yingluck government, which has initiated and implemented the nationwide rice program since last year for the benefit of the Thai farmers.