From cartels to export curbs: gov’ts act on rice prices

HONG KONG, May 4, 2008 (AFP) – Rationing, subsidies, price-fixing cartels, export curbs — you name it, governments across the world are trying it out as they seek to shield their populations from the soaring price of rice. Wary of the political risk of millions of hungry people on their doorstep, some governments — notably in Asia — are adopting new policies, or shifting their old ones, to ease the supply crunch.

But there appears to be no magic one-size-fits-all formula, partly because of national factors and partly because of the nature of the market.

“In Asia, most rice import and export is carried out by countries rather than by companies,” according to Jonathan Pincus, chief economist for the UN Development Programme in Vietnam.

“Producing countries are restricting exports because they’re concerned about the domestic market,” he told AFP. That in turn “means things just get tougher for consuming countries, which have to pay higher and higher prices.”

Last week Thailand said it had agreed in principle to form a rice price-fixing cartel — similar to the oil industry’s OPEC — with neighbours Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar as well as Vietnam.

Thailand, the world’s top rice exporter which last year