Malaysia seeks assurances of rice supplies from Thailand
Friday, 25 April 2008

AP, KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia-- Malaysia sought assurances from Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter, on Thursday that it will continue to supply the grain amid worries over shortages and sharply rising prices.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said rice supply was a key issue in a meeting between Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his Malaysian counterpart, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The leaders discussed ''how to strengthen our cooperation to ensure food security in the region,'' Samak told a joint news conference after the talks.

Samak did not elaborate. Rais said Malaysia wanted ''a proper neighborly arrangement'' because it obtains about 540,000 tons of rice each year from Thailand -- about 60 percent of its total rice imports. ''As long as (that amount) is not shifted, it's good enough to start with,'' Rais said.

Thai authorities have said there are no plans to restrict the country's rice exports. Thailand produces about 22 million tons of milled rice annually and exports about 10 million tons.

World rice prices have risen sharply this year because of growing demand and poor weather conditions in some rice-producing countries.

Malaysia last week announced a blueprint to boost domestic food security by growing rice on a massive scale in a state on Borneo island.

The $1.3 billion allocated for the plan will also be used to increase cultivation of fruits and vegetables. Malaysia currently relies on imports for 30 percent to 35 percent of its rice consumption.

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