BANGKOK/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Thai rubber growers are calling for an investigation into government claims it sold half the country’s stockpile of the commodity, as farmers grow increasingly disillusioned with what they see as a lack of state support.
The nation’s large rural population has a major influence on Thai politics, with governments keen to win its backing. Rubber farmers have a history of taking to the streets to protest, and formed a sizeable contingent in the demonstrations that undermined former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The military toppled the remnants of Ms Yingluck’s government in a bloodless coup in May. Since then, falling prices and a decision by the military not to extend costly agricultural subsidies have increasingly alienated rubber farmers.
The military government said in early September that it had struck a deal to sell half the 200,000 tonne national stockpile, built up when Ms Yingluck’s government bought the rubber to support domestic prices and bolster farmer incomes.
The head of Thailand’s rubber industry group said the published terms of the sale were unclear. The government did not name the buyer and gave a sales price above the spot market. “We are afraid that the deal could be just a political ploy to tell the market that the stocks have been slashed,” Mr Perk Lertwangpong, head of the Rubber Growers Cooperative Federation of Thailand, said on Tuesday. “But the rubber may not have gone anywhere and could still keep pressuring prices, with the government still paying burdensome storage costs.”