Businesses cry foul after missing rice export chance in April

By Anh Minh-Anh Tu   April 13, 2020 | 10:30 pm PT
Businesses cry foul after missing rice export chance in April
Farmers harvest rice in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Tran.
With April’s rice export quota completed in just three hours, many firms are aggrieved they had little notice and chance to make shipments.

Immediately after Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc announced Friday that Vietnam was lifting the ban on rice exports and allowing 400,000 tonnes to be shipped this month, many businesses designated staff to wait for the opening of the online customs portal to submit declaration forms, but were unable to do so.

"I instructed my staff to wait for the whole of Saturday to access this portal, but it did not open," said Pham Thai Binh, Director of Trung An Hi-tech Farming JSC.

"At 12 a.m. Saturday, Vietnam Customs suddenly opened this portal without any prior notice to enterprises, and then closed it only three hours later saying the 400,000-ton export quota had been filled," Binh added.

The company will now have to wait longer to ship over ten thousand tonnes of rice that it has signed a contract for. Binh said that since March 24, the company has had 100 containers, equivalent to about 2,000 tonnes of rice, stuck at ports after the PM imposed an export ban to ensure national food security amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

"We were very happy when we heard that rice could now be exported again, but extremely disappointed with the way authorities worked," Binh said.

The leader of another rice exporter based in the southern province of Dong Thap who did not want to be named told VnExpress that his business did not receive any notice from customs authorities about the re-opening of the export declarations portal.

He had opened the portal Sunday morning to find an announcement saying April’s export quota had been filled, so now had to move 200 containers of rice to warehouses awaiting a further decision on the quota for May.

"Since March 24, around 5,000 tonnes of our goods have been stuck at ports. We have incurred a lot of costs, including container fees, warehousing, and transportation from warehouse to port and back again. This time we’ve incurred yet another round of costs and it’s hurting," he said.

"The way the authorities are working is unfair and disadvantageous to small enterprises. With rice price at a high level and the quota at 400,000 tonnes, we hoped only to export a few dozen tonnes, but now we are left empty handed and once again have failed to deliver on our promises to our partners," he added.

The unnamed owner of another rice export firm in Can Tho Province also said that with nearly 1,800 tonnes of rice stuck at a port since March 24, the company is now unsure whether to bring these goods back to warehouses or leave them at the port, hoping to catch the May quota.

His business will most likely be penalized by partners for failing to deliver shipments for the second time, he added.

While hundreds of small rice exporters were unable to access customs declarations forms, some large enterprises seem to have been favored and given large quotas to export, the business owner said, saying he suspected "group interests" may have had something to do with the results.

Speaking to VnExpress Monday, Director of Customs Control and Supervision Au Anh Tuan said that the customs declaration system worked on a first come first served basis, and with a quota of just 400,000 tonnes, those that registered late would not be able to get their goods cleared.

"Enterprises that register early will be accepted immediately by the system, which will deduct from the overall quota until it is filled up. Once this is done, the system will automatically reject any new declarations made," Tuan said.

For May, enterprises will have to wait for a new evaluation from the Ministry of Industry and Trade, which will be submitted to the Prime Minister so that a new quota can be determined.

Binh of the Trung An Hi-tech Farming JSC said the Ministry of Industry and Trade and Vietnam Customs should come up with measures to remove difficulties for smaller enterprises in exporting rice.

Particularly, authorities should give priority to the 200,000 tonnes of rice in containers stuck at ports since March 24 until now, and fill up the rest of the quota later.

"With how authorities are working currently, export businesses are suffering a lot," Binh said.

On March 24, the PM had imposed a rice export ban until late May to ensure national food security during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the trade ministry had proposed that it be lifted, arguing that supply will exceed demand by 6.7 million tonnes for the year.

Vietnam is the world's third largest rice exporter after India and Thailand. Last year it exported 6.37 million tonnes worth $2.81 billion, with the top markets being the Philippines, Ivory Coast, Malaysia, and China.

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