Thailand, the world's leading exporter of canned tuna and frozen shrimp, is seeing a rising challenge from China in many of its biggest exports including rice, shrimp and pineapples. "China is now producing as much shrimp as Thailand, some 280,000 tons," said Professor Sakarindr Bhumiratana from the National Science and Technology Development Agency during the Fi-Asia conference in Bangkok. And while Thailand's shrimp production is now saturated, China is expanding in this sector by around 25 per cent this year. Thailand is also falling down the global rankings in rice exports and needs to increase its research into new technologies to improve productivity. "China is already very advanced in producing GMO plants, number five in the world," said Professor Bhumiratana. "I don't think we can maintain this non-allowance of GM field trials for much longer because it will limit our development of seeds and more productive crops," he told delegates. Thailand also exports significant quantities of prepared chicken, and promotes itself as the 'Kitchen to the world'. But while the higher value processing sector accounts for and increasing share of its food and agriculture exports, almost 43 per cent of the population still rely on this sector for their livelihoods so agriculture needs to become more profitable. "We want to increase R&D to 3 per cent of GDP but this will need lots of support from policy makers," explained Professor Bhumiratana. "With more research spending we could develop diversified products from rice. We also want to make designer starch from cassava using knowledge from the wheat and potato starch industries. We could use modified starch from cassava in future food products." Thailand also needs to tap into growing world demand for organic food. Dr Joceyln Naewbanij, director of information services at the National Food Institute, said however that rice exports are forecast to rise again in 2007 based on lower output from other countries affected by natural disaster. "In 2006, growth in rice export value will be negative but we forecast it will rise by 7.5 per cent in 2007 due to our assumption of natural calamities round the world," she said. And other food exports are also growing. Thailand's total food exports are forecast by the NIF to reach BT550 billion this year, up by around 5.8 per cent on last year. Economic recovery in some of its key export markets like Japan and the EU as well as an increase in new land for agricultural production are among the factors driving this growth.