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Reforming Myanmar targets boost in rice exports

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar plans to increase rice exports by almost a fifth to 1 million tons in the current fiscal year (2012-2013), owing partly to international help in reviving its agriculture sector, state media said on Saturday.

Minister of Agriculture Myint Hlaing said President Thein Sein, a key reformer in the year-old civilian government, had instructed the ministry to boost rice yields and quality.

Tax concessions would also be extended to help rice exporters, the newspapers said.

"With the assistance of experts at home and abroad, both high-yield and high-quality rice will be grown on over 100,000 acres in the coming season," official newspapers quoted Myint Hlaing as saying during a meeting of exporters and industry officials in the capital Naypyitaw.

Rice exports are seen as an area with huge potential for Myanmar, which was the world's biggest exporter of the grain under British colonial rule. It shipped a world record 3.4 million tonnes (3.3 million tons) in 1934.

Thein Sein sees the revival of Myanmar's rice sector as a priority as the country seeks to emerge from decades of isolation under military rule and Western sanctions. It is rich in fertile land but lacks modern agriculture machinery and has been asking foreign governments to help provide this.

More than half of Myanmar's 60 million people are employed in agriculture and the government has been seeking to raise living standards for farmers by providing micro loans and land ownership certificates.

Myanmar earned $324 million from the export of over 844,200 tonnes in 2011-2012 fiscal year, compared with 536,800 the previous year, Minister of Commerce Win Myint was quoted as telling the meeting.

"With intent to encourage boosting rice exports, the eight percent commercial tax has been exempted until August," Win Myint said of the tax breaks offered to exporters, who have suffered over the past two years due to the appreciation of the kyat currency, of which the government began a "managed float" last week in its boldest economic reform in decades.

According to industry sources, major buyers of Myanmar's rice are west African nations, the Philippines, Bangladesh and China, which imported about an eighth of last year's total, all through cross-border trade.

Myanmar's target of 1 million tonnes is still dwarfed by its regional peers, with Vietnam and Thailand expected to ship at least 7 million tonnes each this year. In 2011, Thailand exported a record 10 million tonnes of rice while Vietnam shipped 7.2 million tonnes, its highest ever.

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Martin Petty)

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