Customs urged to act on sticky rice smugglers

Customs urged to act on sticky rice smugglers

As prices rise, smuggling of Vietnamese sticky rice into Thailand is soaring. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)
As prices rise, smuggling of Vietnamese sticky rice into Thailand is soaring. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

The Internal Trade Department is urging border security and customs officers to crack down on the smuggling of unmilled glutinous rice by traders who want to profit off the high price of the commodity in the domestic market.

Whichai Phochanakij, director-general of the department, said most of the smuggled glutinous rice comes from Vietnam via Cambodia, before making its way across the border in Sa Kaeo, Chanthaburi and Buri Ram provinces.

"Tougher screening is needed, because there is high demand for glutinous rice in Thailand, which drives prices up," he said.

"Conditions are ripe for traders to smuggle glutinous rice into the country, especially since durian and mangoes are currently in season."

Unmilled glutinous rice can fetch up to 12,000 baht a tonne in Thailand  — about 4,000 baht higher than in neighbouring countries.

“The high price of glutinous rice in Thailand should benefit our farmers,” said Mr Whichai.

"But huge amounts of contraband glutinous rice are flooding Thai markets. This could cause prices to plunge, and hurt the profits of Thai farmers."

Chookiat Ophaswongse, the honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said some Thai traders are working with smuggling syndicates to bring in glutinous rice from neighbouring countries.

"Thai glutinous rice fetches about US$900 (about 28,134 baht) per tonne in the export market, whereas Vietnamese glutinous rice sells for about $500 per tonne," he said.

"As such, those who smuggle Vietnamese [glutinous] rice to be passed off and re-sold as a product of Thailand stand to gain almost 100% in profits."

Mr Chookiat said drought has caused prices to soar, with glutinous rice reserves expected to drop to about two million tonnes (equivalent to about one million tonne of milled rice) this year — a 200,000-tonne drop compared to the same period last year.

The Thai market has been flooded with Vietnamese glutinous rice after China decided to stop importing the product from Vietnam because of strained ties between the two countries.

Mr Chookia also said that some Thai rice traders use their warehouses as storage facilities and transit points before they smuggle the rice onward to Malaysia, where it is sold at even higher prices.

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