Thailand launches COVID-safety drive to boost food exports following outbreaks
By Celine Chen
Thailand has carried out measures to ensure that its farm produce and food products are safe for global consumers following a spate of coronavirus outbreaks at production sites.
Although exports had seen a strong turnaround since December last year, the kingdom has been hit by its worst wave of COVID-19 infections since April.
It prompted strict safety measures across production and processing plants as well as movement restrictions.
Somdet Susomboon, director-general of the government's department of international trade promotion, revealed that Thailand encountered a global trade slowdown, especially in the food manufacturing sector, due to the impact of the pandemic.
In a press statement on Monday (June 21), he said, "This is partly resulted from the changes in consumer behavior as consumers are now prioritizing food safety. As a consequence, Thailand needs to adapt its strategy to meet the changing demands of buyers, importers and consumers."
His department, which comes under the ministry of commerce, kicked off the "Thailand Deliver with Safety" campaign to regain the confidence of overseas buyers and importers of Thai agricultural produce, food products and halal food for Muslim consumers.
"Particularly, Thailand is reassuring global consumers that the strict safety measures are imposed throughout its food supply chain from sourcing raw materials, harvesting, transporting, protecting oneself at the factory and packing to delivery at consumers' doorstep," said Susomboon.
The department collaborated with government agencies and the private sector to help food manufacturers and business operators adopt the global safety standards and best practices in COVID-19 prevention in the production process.
Producers who comply with the measures are given certification of compliance to help boost their exports.
In end-May, Charoen Pokphand Foods, Thailand's biggest meat producer, closed its chicken processing factory in Saraburi province for five days after more than 200 workers were found to be infected by the novel coronavirus.
Operations were shifted to safe plants while the affected site was disinfected.
Exports, a key driver of Thailand growth, fell by about 6 percent last year.
However, global recovery subsequently lifted demand. In the first quarter of this year, exports increased 2.27 percent from a year ago while imports went up by 9.37 percent.
Thai exports jumped 13.1 percent to over $21 billion in value in April, its highest growth rate in 36 months.
Among the goods in high demand were vehicles and automotive accessories as well as agricultural and food products. The country's top trading partners still remained the same - the United States, China, the European Union and South Asia.
While the Thai economy improved in the first quarter helped by manufacturing, investment and exports, a third wave of COVID-19 infections accounting for 95 percent of the total deaths has dampened its outlook.
The government downgraded its earlier 2021 growth forecast from 2.5-3.5 percent to 1.5-2.5 percent as the resurgence constrained market activity.
The country is now making efforts to quicken the pace of its vaccination campaign as it prepares to reopen tourism to foreign visitors in phases starting with the resort island of Phuket in July.
The country aims to vaccinate 70 percent of the population by year-end. Nearly 3 percent were fully vaccinated while 4.9 percent have received partial vaccination.
Thailand's health minister said on Monday (Jun 21) that Japan would be donating AstraZeneca vaccines next month to bolster supplies after the inoculation drive in the country was hampered by delays.
There were 29 more COVID-19 deaths in Thailand on Sunday while 3,175 new infections were detected, bringing the tally to 1,658 deaths and 221,306 cases since the start of the pandemic last year.
Lockdown restrictions in capital city Bangkok have been eased further since Monday (June 21) as the contagion has shown signs of weakening while more people are getting inoculated.