Thai Rubber Farmers Threaten Protest, Set to Meet Tuesday

By Khettiya Jittapong 11 January 2016

BANGKOK — Thailand’s rubber farmers will meet to call for help from the military government on Tuesday to deal with a slump in their incomes and threaten open defiance of its ban on protests if their demands are not met.

The threat is an unusual challenge because rubber farmers have typically supported the conservative royalist establishment championed by the generals, who outlawed political gatherings of more than five people when they seized power in mid-2014.

Thailand, the world’s top rubber producer and exporter, has already rolled out several measures to support farmers whose income has been slashed due to a fall in international prices of the commodity to a seven-year low.

But those measures have stopped short of doing what the farmers want and what previous more populist governments reviled by the military have done—spend state money to guarantee a selling price to farmers.

“We call for rubber prices at 60 baht per kilogram. If the government can’t do that, we are ready for a big protest,” the group of rubber farmer networks said in a statement issued on Sunday. That amounts to US$1.65 per kilogram.

The government should move quickly to strengthen domestic rubber prices, the statement said, suggesting it terminate a plan to sell rubber stocks of 360,000 tons and task the Rubber Authority of Thailand to overhaul the industry.

Stocks accumulated through previous subsidies and support schemes have weighed on the market, further depressing prices to multi-year lows last week as concern over the health of China’s economy hammered international financial markets.

Thailand’s benchmark unsmoked rubber sheet (USS3) was at 33.40 baht per kilogram on Friday, the lowest since dropping to 32.7 baht in December 2008, according to Rubber Authority of Thailand data.

Last week, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said his government did not have enough money to assist rubber farmers with another direct subsidy, but was looking for a sustainable solution to the problem.

Saksarit Sriprasart, a rubber farmer leader in the southern province of Trang, told Reuters on Sunday he would go on hunger strike next week if the government fails to solve the problems of small rubber farmers.