November 27, 2014 / 11:19 AM / 3 years ago

Thai government delays draft rubber law amid farmers' discontent

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s government postponed debate on a draft rubber law on Thursday after coming under pressure from rubber farmers’ groups to scrap the law, the deputy agriculture minister said.

The draft aims to set up a Rubber Authority of Thailand that would include farmers and representatives from the public and private sectors to oversee policy and prices, but protesters are concerned small-time farmers will be left out.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Amnuay Patisse said he had invited rubber groups to discuss ways to fix the draft law “so that this piece of legislature truly belongs to rubber farmers and pleases all sides”.

Around 50 Thai rubber farmers gathered outside Bangkok’s Government House on Tuesday to protest against the law and demand that the government buy their produce at higher prices.

The law will be reintroduced to the National Legislative Assembly in two weeks time after talks with rubber groups, Amnuay said.

Some farmers in the world’s top rubber producer have threatened to step up street action if the law is not scrapped entirely.

“If things do not play out according to what we have agreed, rubber farmers will surely come out and voice their discontent,” said Soontorn Rakrong, a spokesman for 14 farmer groups based in the south.

Several rubber farmers, based mostly in the south, supported anti-government protests earlier this year that culminated in a coup on May 22, but some say they feel betrayed because the junta had failed to soften the blow of plunging rubber prices.

Thai unsmoked rubber sheet was quoted at 45 baht per kg on Thursday, which farmers say is far below the production cost of 65 baht.

The government has ruled out the sort of intervention schemes that led to the ousting of the previous Yingluck Shinawatra-led government as they are costly and cause a build-up in stockpiles that then become difficult to sell.

Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Kaweewit Kaewjinda; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Susan Thomas

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