Commerce Ministry halts mask exports

Commerce Ministry halts mask exports

Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanavisit (right) visits a face mask factory in Nonthaburi's Pak Kret district. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanavisit (right) visits a face mask factory in Nonthaburi's Pak Kret district. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

The Commerce Ministry has put the brakes on face mask exports to ensure sufficient domestic supply, just three working days after exporters asked to ship as many as 18 million pieces.

Whichai Phochanakij, director-general of the Internal Trade Department, said the department has yet to grant permission to any exporters because the priority is to ensure adequate supply in this country.

The cabinet on Tuesday approved a proposal to put face masks and alcohol-based hand sanitiser on the state price control list as part of efforts to deal with the deadly virus outbreak.

Once on the price control list, manufacturers, distributors, exporters and importers have to inform the department of production cost, sales price, production volume, export/import volume and inventory.

Those that export more than 500 pieces need to gain prior approval from the department. Similar measures are applied to hand sanitiser, except for the limit on export volume, as there are still adequate quantities to meet domestic demand.

The price control list covers essential items for daily use, such as food, consumer goods, farm-related products, paper, petroleum and medicine.

There are 170 items on the state priority watch list, 52 of which are on the price control list.

The inclusion of the two products on the price control list is essential because the demand for face masks has surged to 40-50 million pieces a month after the virus outbreak, up from 30 million a month previously. Thailand makes about 30 million pieces a month.

Thailand shipped 226 million face masks in 2019, a 218% surge from 71 million masks in 2018.

Mr Whichai said that from Feb 7 to 11, after the order requiring exporters of more than 500 pieces to gain prior approval from the department became effective on Feb 6, 40 exporters sought permission for export of as many as 18.5 million pieces.

The export request for Feb 12 has yet to be concluded, but more requests are anticipated, he said.

To ensure ample supply, the department recently issued an order demanding producers furnish masks for a centre set up by the government for public distribution at affordable prices.

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