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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Asia limits rice exports as prices and uncertainty rise

By David Montero

sia, home to many of the world's top rice suppliers, accounts for 76 percent of the 30 million tons of the staple food exported each year. Prices are shooting up worldwide, in part because many of those countries have cut back on exports due to fears of shortage. The food-price crisis has underscored that, as a region, Asia is divided into "rice haves" - where domestic production is enough to feed the population - and "rice have-nots," which consistently rely on imports. Correspondent David Montero provides a snapshot of rice supplies around the region:

HAVES

Thailand

Thailand is the world's largest exporter of rice, with 31 percent of the global market. In 2007, it exported 9.4 million tons of rice, out of a total 20 million tons produced. Unlike many Asian countries, it has not imposed any export restrictions, and this year it expects to export between 8.75 million and 9 million tons.

Yet prices of rice have doubled in the country since the beginning of the year, fueling fears of inflation and hoarding. But the government has stockpiled 2.1 million tons of rice, and no shortages are expected.

Vietnam

Vietnam is the second largest exporter of rice in the world, with about 20 percent of the global market. It has said it will limit exports of rice to 3.5 million tons, down from 4.5 tons last year. The announcement contributed to global prices of rice doubling since January. Consumer prices in Vietnam, meanwhile, increased by 20 percent in March, a 12-year record.

India

India exports about 4 million tons of rice a year, making it the world's third-largest exporter. But because food prices have risen by 8.3 percent in the past year, it has also imposed restrictions on exports of rice. That is putting a considerable strain on world prices and supplies, experts say.

Pakistan

Pakistan exported 3.3 million tons of rice last year, making it the fifth-largest exporter just behind the United States. But exports this year are expected to fall by 15 percent to 2.8 million, mainly due to power shortages, according to Pakistani officials.

Since rice is not a staple food in Pakistan - wheat is - the government has not placed the same kind of restrictions as other Asia countries. With rice in tight supply, many countries are pinning their hopes on Pakistan's exports.

China

China is the world's largest producer and consumer of rice, with annual supplies large enough to feed its population. It exported 1.4 million tons of rice last year. But food prices jumped 21 percent in March alone, and consumer prices reached an 11-year high in February of 8.7 percent. To dampen price increases, China imposed strict export restrictions on rice, which is expected to result in a drop of 300,000 tons to the global market. This week it also imposed a six-month tariff on fertilizer exports, to help shore up domestic supply.

Cambodia

Cambodia produced 3.6 million tons of rice last year, according to official estimates. Two million are needed for domestic consumption, leaving Cambodia with about 1.6 million tons in surplus. Last year it exported 450,000 tons of rice, according to the US Department of Agriculture. But this year it may not: In late March, Prime Minister Hun Sen imposed a two-month ban on all exports, hoping to curb the spiraling domestic price of rice. The rate of food inflation reached 24 percent in March, the highest level in a decade.

Indonesia

Indonesia, one of the world's leading consumers of rice, usually imports large quantities of the grain to feed its 233 million people - making it particularly vulnerable to the rice crisis. But this year it expects to harvest 32.6 million tons, about 1.2 million more than it needs for domestic consumption. The surplus comes thanks to an expansion in the harvested farmland area and improved yields. Accordingly, rice prices have only increased by 7 percent this year, much less than in the rest of Asia, which has seen a rise of about 50 percent.

Japan

Unlike the rest of Asia, there is actually a rice glut in Japan, and rice prices are falling, according to the Wall Street Journal. Last year, Japanese farmers produced 8.71 million tons of rice, against a demand of 8.33 million tons. Japanese consumers pay two to three times more for rice than other Asian consumers do, as part of a program to generously subsidize rice production.

South Korea

South Korea looks prepared to weather the current crisis. Last year it produced 4.68 million tons of rice, more than enough to meet the 4.16 million tons of demand. Still, rice prices have shot up 75 percent in the past two months.

Australia

Australia used to produce 700,000 tons of rice and export around 600,000 annually,

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Kep is Cambodia or the whole country is Vietnam

Crabs...we watched them go straight from the trap to the grill to our plates....YUM! (seafood is Kep's only industry)

Kep was once a seaside resort. Then the Khmer Rouge came to town (see the pattern developing?). Kep and Kampot were one of their last holdouts, so the town is just starting to see tourists rolling through. We spoke to some locals who said there weren't even guest houses in Kep 5 years ago. For that matter, there weren't any Cambodians. The locals were too scared (smart) to live there and moved out. In 1994, there was actually a very well documented account of foreigners getting kidnapped by the KR on the road between Kep and Kampot. None of them survived. (Don't worry, Mom, that's why we're avoiding Burma (and now Tibet) this trip).

We took an 18km bike ride around the mountain range that looms over the town and the effect of their recent history was tough to miss. As we tend to do, we rode off the beaten path of the main road and biked around a little further inland. There were seaside mansions, one right after another. Back in the day, Kep was THE beach-side resort town and only the wealthiest of Cambodians (i.e. government officials) could afford to live there. These places were massive. As we rode past them, however, they were no longer inhabited by Cambodia's elite. Life is nothing, if not ironic and the mansions are now inhabited by Cambodia's impoverished. During the KR years, most of the mansions were shelled by mortars, riddled with bullets and bulldozed with tanks. What were seaside mansions are now seaside ruins. So Kep's poor put up a tin wall here, threw up a plastic sheet there and are now squatting in some of the nicest homes in the country.

Having caught the Indiana Jones bug, I desperately wanted to park our bikes and explore some of the homes that were still vacant. Unfortunately, I saw one too many one-legged and no-legged Cambodians begging in the streets. Putting on my Indy fedora wasn't worth the risk of stepping on an undetonated land mine.

Sadly, Kep was our last stop in Cambodia.

Now we're waking up and screaming GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM!

Cambodian Cultural Difference - HALLO! : Okay, so this is more of a traveling phenomenon than a Cambodian phenomenon, but the kids are so cute there, I had to throw it under Cambodia. No matter where we've traveled, we are always bombarded with waves and greetings from the local children. Particularly during our 18km bike marathon, we would here a high-pitched "HALLO!!!!" coming from out of nowhere, only to see a naked 4 year old running out of his house chasing after us, arm frantically waving in there air. Tracy...err I mean Miss America... likes her Southeast Asian celebrity status so much that if somehow a child DOESN'T see us, SHE will scream out to them. She will do anything for her HALLO! fix.

Funnily enough, as we rode on the back of the tuk tuk to the Vietnamese border, the HALLOS! changed to BYE BYE!!!'s.
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Soccer-Cambodia to beef-up national team to stem goals tide

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH, April 22 (Reuters) - Cambodia is on a drive to recruit bigger players for its struggling soccer side after years of being hammered by more physical teams, the country's soccer chief said on Tuesday.

Soccer federation president Sao Sokha said the impoverished country's diminutive players had little chance against bigger, stronger opponents so it was time for a complete overhaul.

"We need to have bigger and taller players to play against tough foreign players," he told Reuters.

"The new recruits must meet the requirement of (being) at least 1.7 metres tall, young, strong and able to run fast."

Cambodia's team of labourers, security guards and policemen have conceded 21 goals in their last four matches. The team has never qualified for a tournament outside of Southeast Asia.

Introduced to soccer in the 1960s by French colonialists, Cambodia were fast improvers before a brutal civil war, which included genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime, curtailed their progress and led to a 23-year absence from the game.

Sao Sokha said 30 players had so far been recruited and would be paid up to $250 a month -- eight times the salary of a civil servant.

"Lots of people like to watch the game, but it is difficult to find qualified people to play it," he said.

"I urge all parents to let their children play soccer so that it will help us to find good players -- players who can attract spectators like rock bands do." (Editing by Martin Petty and Greg Stutchbury)


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