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Confusion as Thai envoy dismisses Minister’s context of chats on Rice importation

Claims and counter claims of what the Ambassador of Thailand to Nigeria, Wattana Kunwongse, discussed with the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, during a courtesy visit in Abuja may ignite diplomatic row if care is not taken as soon as possible.

Whereas Chief Ogbeh had claimed that Thailand said President Muhammadu Buhari’s policy on local rice sufficiency was responsible for the collapse of seven of rice mills in Thailand, the Ambassador in a statement refuted the revelation, saying “there is no proof of the shutdown of Thailand’s major mills”.

Kunwongse averred that during that said meeting, he only praised the government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) and assured the Agric Minister of Thailand’s support in the field of agriculture.

“The report is not only misleading but a distortion of the actual conversation between myself and the Honourable Minister of Agriculture at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on 30th January 2018, which was nothing short of positivity and optimism on both sides,” the statement read.

“During which I praised President Buhari’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), the essence of which is the endeavour to move the country to a self-sufficiency and export-oriented economy, and to that worthy cause, Thailand stands ready to work closely with the Nigerian government in the field of technological transfer and agricultural machineries.

“At the same meeting, the Honourable Minister and I had reached the conclusion that I as ambassador of Thailand to Nigeria will be working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to establish a platform to discuss our mutual benefits in the form of MOU on agricultural cooperation and by forming a bilateral working committee toward that end.

“Thailand’s rice export to the world in 20 (January-December 2017) reached 11.48 million tons equalising to $5.1 billion (USD), a 15.54 per cent increase compared to previous years, which is one of the highest figures on the history Thailand’s rice exportation.

“There is no proof of any shutdown of Thailand’s major rice mills,” Kunwongse countered.

It would be recalled that Chief Audu Ogbeh had noted that “Just like two weeks ago, the Ambassador of Thailand came to my office and said to me that we have really dealt with them,” he said.

“But I asked what did we do wrong and he said unemployment in Thailand was one of the lowest in the world, 1.2 percent, it has gone up to four percent because seven giant rice mills have shut down because Nigeria’s import has fallen by 95 per cent on rice alone,” the Minister said.