Thai rice illegally imported into Myanmar

As domestic rice prices increase, cheaper and higher quality rice is now being illegally imported from Thailand, Myanmar rice traders say.

Speculation over rice shortages since nationwide flooding in July and August increased transportation costs in some areas, and high production costs for farmers have driven up rice prices around the country. To still the hunger for cheaper grains, an illegal trade in rice from Thailand has sprung up in September.

“Rice trade from Thailand to Myanmar started this year with good-quality rice for lower prices than domestic rice,” said U Than Oo, secretary of Bayinnaung market in Yangon and a rice trader.

Myanmar rice prices are now between K28,000 and K30,000 per 50-kilogram bag, while the same sized bag from Thailand costs about K25,000 to K26,000, he said.

The type of rice imported from Thailand is the same quality as Sin Thwe Lat rice from Myanmar. It is not as soft as domestic rice and has a stronger taste, which is more popular with Myanmar consumers.

“Their price is lower than that of Yangon-produced rice and is pure, of good quality and contains no broken rice,” said U Chan Thar Oo, a rice trader from Muse.

Thai rice enters the Myanmar market illegally through the Myawaddy border gate but Myanmar rice traders hope that the trade will die out during the harvest season.

“Thai rice is sold here now that our rice has become expensive, but the sellers will disappear when our new rice is harvested. They have no permit so this is only for the short term,” said U Min Thein, chair of the Muse Rice wholesale centre.

The domestic rice price fluctuates depending on the amount of grains stored by millers during the harvesting season. In the aftermath of flooding that damaged about 700,000 acres of farmland since July, the Myanmar Rice Federation opened shops across the country to ease speculation about rice shortages and stabilise prices, in addition to a temporary ban on exports until October 15.

“We can get a good price for our rice if we store more, but we need to store it properly,” said the owner of Zwel Rice Shop from Shwe Pyi Thar township.

Myanmar’s rice exports are largely dependent on Chinese demand. Farmers can sell their rice directly across the border to China, even if the quality of the rice is not high.

“Thai traders can’t threaten our export market – we are a bigger supplier to the Chinese market. While they have good-quality rice, it is expensive. Myanmar rice is cheap and is purified after the rice arrives [in China],” said U Than Oo.

Although most rice traders don’t seem to be concerned about the imports of Thai rice, U Chan Thar Oo, the rice trader from Muse, is worried that Myanmar’s rice trade will fall behind.

“Farmers use insecticide and fertilizer without thinking of the consequences and lands are destroyed because of floods. If we can’t change that situation, it will be difficult to yield hundreds of baskets from an acre of paddy field,” U Chan Thar Oo said.

Thai farmers are able to keep their prices lower because of the use of advanced farming technologies, compared to the methods used by Myanmar farmers.

“Their agricultural technology is better than ours. They get 200 baskets out of 1 acre, whereas here, the harvest is about 80 baskets per acre,” said U Chan Thar Oo.

Source: Myanmar Times

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