The world’s top rubber grower, Thailand, is looking into increasing local manufacturing of rubber gloves to keep up with demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the nation’s natural rubber (NR) has traditionally been exported for further processing, but the Rubber Authority of Thailand is encouraging companies to boost glove production to take advantage of their abundant supply.
“We want to be the world’s number one NR glove producer,” Rubber Authority Governor Nakorn Takkavirapat said. “There are a lot of opportunities for us because the Asian glove market has the biggest growth potential, and we supply the majority of NR to the world.”
Thailand produces about 4.8 million tonnes of NR annually, far ahead of Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia. The challenge for Thailand’s latex gloves industry will now be to regain the market share from nitrile alternatives such as those produced by Malaysia.
However, Thailand can easily double its market share to 26% next year, if its rubber industry also accelerates glove production capacity.Already, Sri Trang Gloves PCL, the country’s biggest glove maker, plans to more than double its annual capacity to 70 billion by 2026 and 100 billion by 2032.
While the government designs policies to facilitate investment and provides some subsidies for businesses, Boon Vanasin, Chairman of Thonburi Healthcare Group PCL, will set up a THB 20 billion (US$ 640 million) gloves facility to cater to growing demand. Hospital tycoon Boon estimates that global gloves demand is at 400 billion to 600 billion pieces annually with current supplies only about half of that.
“Thailand exports a lot of natural rubber for processing abroad. Why can’t Thailand process rubber and make gloves ourselves for exports?” said Boon.