Thailand’s rice industry is enduring one of its most painful periods as a strong baht makes exports uncompetitive, according to one of the sector’s leaders.
The nation is on course to lose its position as the world’s second-biggest rice exporter if the situation doesn’t improve, Chookiat Ophaswongse, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said in an interview.
“It’s killing us all,” he said Thursday in Bangkok. “We don’t know what else we can do. We tried reducing costs, but the baht keeps making our rice more expensive. We can only just sit and wait, and some might have to quit the business.”
The rice industry is a crucial one for Thailand because of the sheer number of people who depend on it for their livelihoods. The industry supports as much as 30% of the country’s 69 million population, according to Chookiat.
The baht has strengthened more than 9% against the dollar in the past year, the most in emerging markets, leaving rice exports exposed to more competition from large producers like India, Vietnam and China.
Thai white rice is selling at $425 per ton, but that figure would be about $380 per ton if the baht was at the same level now as this time last year, according to the association. The trade body includes 75% of all rice exporters in Thailand.
“The industry is heading toward a dead end,” Chookiat said. “We can’t compete anymore.”