Vietnam may limit future rice exports

HANOI — Vietnam may permanently reduce rice exports by 2010 and beyond to ensure food security for its growing population, state media reports and government officials said on Monday.

Outward shipments from the world’s second largest rice exporter could be capped at 4.3 million tons a year by 2015 and 3.8 million tons by 2020, according to a report in the state-run Vietnam News daily.

Cutting overseas sales of the staple crop would balance the effects of “the growing population and bad crops caused by natural disasters, insects and inclement weather,” the daily reported, citing unnamed officials.

Government experts stressed that the plan was currently under consideration by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and would require the approval of the government leadership of the communist country.

“It’s just an idea for a long-term rice export policy until 2020,” said Phung Thi Kim Thoa, a senior ministry official in charge of rice exports, when asked to comment on the state media report.

“We are working on a project which would have to be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and then by the prime minister. We are collecting opinions from concerned ministries on this matter.”

Global food prices have surged this year, fuelling supply fears and inflation in countries including Vietnam.

Vietnam has capped 2008 national rice exports at 3.5-4 million tons, down from a previous target of 4.5 million tons, and ordered a halt to the signing of new export contracts until the end of June.

Experts in Vietnam have warned that the country’s arable lands are shrinking fast while the population, now estimated at 86 million, has grown rapidly since the end of the war in 1975 triggered a baby boom.

“Vietnam has lost a lot of arable land to urbanization and industrialization,” said economist Le Dang Doanh, a veteran government advisor.

“There are too many industrial parks, projects, golf courses, and so on. The problem is now how to ensure food security as demographic pressures, the increase of the population, are still increasing.”

World grain prices have sky-rocketed this year, a trend blamed on higher energy and fertilizer costs, greater global demand, droughts, the loss of farmland to biofuel plantations, industry and cities, and price speculation.


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