Farmlands plan faces new blow

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Gulf Daily News | September 06, 2009

BAHRAIN and other Gulf countries' plan to buy agricultural land in Thailand to bolster their food supplies could be thwarted, it has emerged.

The world's biggest rice exporter is cracking down on foreign ownership of its farmland, following reports that Arab countries have been snapping up vast plots of land.

The Thai Agriculture Ministry is drafting legislation that would impose new zoning regulations to prevent farm areas from exporting products to a specific country or region.

Thai farms are largely family-run and the Foreign Business Act prevents non-Thais from owning farm businesses. However, there are loopholes.

"The Foreign Business Act, itself, should be amended and we will propose our intention of the law amendment very soon," the Agriculture Minister's adviser Nikorn Jamnong told the Alibaba commerce website.

"The law should be endorsed by the House of Representatives very soon, as the government has a very clear policy that farm businesses are not allowed to be owned by foreigners.

He said the new legislation should include tougher punishments for Thais who help foreigners who take advantage of Thai farmland.

A Bahrain business delegation took part in a week-long scouting mission to Thailand and the Philippines in June in the hope of securing fruit and vegetable plantations.

The aim was to strike deals that would see produce grown there flown to Bahrain to feed its growing population.

Manama-based Al Salam Bank is the latest to sign an agreement with Thai food company Charoen Pokphand Foods to jointly invest in agricultural businesses.

But this and many other deals have raised concerns among Thais about whether they would only benefit foreign investors.
Original source: Gulf Daily News
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