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Acting PM urged to settle farmers' arrears

THE COMMERCE Ministry wants acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan to seek approval from the Election Commission for the allocation of Bt30 billion to Bt40 billion to pay some farmers what they have long been owed under the rice-pledging scheme.

They are still owed a total of Bt70 billion. Caretaker Deputy Commerce Minister Yanyong Phuangrach said the ministry would ask for further special budget allocations to help get the farmers' arrears cleared quickly, and as Niwattumrong is scheduled to meet with the EC today, he should raise this issue.

In February, the ministry was allocated Bt20 billion to deal with some of the late payments. Yanyong said the ministry should be able to repay all of that to the Finance Ministry by the end of this month, as agreed. That should pave the way for the EC to authorise a further allocation to pay off some more farmers, he said.

The Commerce Ministry has already repaid Bt15.9 billion, he added, so only about Bt4 billion still needs to be reimbursed to the Finance Ministry under the February arrangement.

The government racked up a bill of about Bt200 billion from the pledging programme, of which it so far has only been able to pay Bt130 billion to participating farmers.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Trade Department's auction yesterday for 432,797 tonnes of rice attracted 14 traders, and three bid for 17,067 tonnes of damaged rice.

A source from the department said it would negotiate today for the best price and then finalise the sale.

Also today, the ministry will open bidding for 220,000 tonnes of rice through the Agriculture Futures Exchange of Thailand. Of this, 139,000 tonnes is white rice and 80,300 tonnes jasmine rice.

Somkiat Makcayathorn, president of the Thai Rice Packers Association, said that because of the low supply of rice in the local market, many traders would join the government's auctions. However, the prices would not be high, as the market has acknowledged that the government needs to keep selling rice to clear out its stockpiles as soon as possible.

He said the price of Thai rice would likely stay around the current level for a while but should go up a bit soon as drought lowers the supply in the world market.


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