Iran keen to resume Thai rice imports

Iran keen to resume Thai rice imports

Iran has expressed an interest in buying rice from Thailand once again as part of an effort to boost bilateral trade in the next five years.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani showed an intention to buy Thai rice in talks with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday at Government House, deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak said.

Mr Rouhani arrived in Thailand on Saturday to attend the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) summit which is set to begin at the Foreign Ministry today.

The meeting did not go into details, but Gen Prayut did ask for information regarding a previous rice agreement reached by both countries, Lt Gen Werachon added.

Thailand stopped selling rice to Iran after that country was hit with United Nations sanctions. However, as Iran has started to open back up, both countries signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this year to resume sales of 300,000 tonnes of rice worth 4.3 billion baht.

Mr Rouhani said the transaction's approval awaits Iran's move to review its hygiene standards for importing rice, said Lt Gen Werachon.

As Thailand plans to increase the amount of rice it exports, Iran is targeted as a potential customer.

Thailand shipped 4.8 million tonnes overseas in the first half of this year, up 9.3% from the same period a year ago.

To boost bilateral trade and rice sales, the two countries will hold the Joint Trade Committee today at the Commerce Ministry aimed at boosting bilateral trade between the countries from US$300 million (10.4 billion baht) last year to $3 billion in the next five years, a government source said.

With a population of about 80 million, Iran is a potential target in the Middle East for expanding trade. Iran is the 11th biggest trade partner for Thailand in the Middle East in terms of value, and 65th globally.

Last year, trade value between Thailand and Iran reached $309 million. Thai exports to Iran were valued at $217 million and imports from Iran into Thailand at $92 million.

Lt Gen Werachon said the Iranian delegation includes its commerce, agriculture, and energy ministers.

"This will be the new face of the relationship between Thailand and Iran," he said.

In term of financial issues, Mr Rouhani wants greater cooperation between commercial banks in both countries to smooth bilateral trade and Gen Prayut has ordered state agencies to study the issue.

In addition, the two countries expressed an interest in cooperating on energy projects, potentially resuming oil exploration by Thai companies in Iran, said Lt Gen Werachon.

In a meeting with Asian business leaders yesterday, Gen Prayut urged closer cooperation between the public and private sectors to bolster Asian growth. He singled out infrastructure investment as a key to driving the continent.

The ACD was created by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2002. It started with 18 members and has since grown to grown to include 34 members.

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