Bangkok (VNA) - Thailand's natural rubber industry is likely to remain depressed this year despite a sharp rise in demand for protective rubber gloves driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Luckchai Kittipol, Honorary President of the Thai Rubber Association, said the virus crisis has prompted many automotive factories, notably in the US and Europe, to shut down or reduce their production, resulting in lower rubber tyre demand.

The world's overall automotive demand plunged, particularly during the lockdown measures, he said. In addition, the global economic recession and overall tepid business sentiment have wrecked auto demand.

Thailand is the world's biggest producer of natural rubber, making 4.8 million tonnes last year, with exports accounting for up to 3.97 million tonnes.

The country ranks fourth for exports of rubber products and processed rubber, trailing China, Germany and the US.

Such exports totalled 11.2 billion USD last year, up 2 percent. Key markets include the US, China, Japan, ASEAN and Australia, with auto tyres accounting for 51 percent of the shipments, followed by synthetic rubber and rubber gloves at 19 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

The Thai Commerce Ministry reported global demand for protective gloves is soaring in light of the coronavirus pandemic, driving Thailand's rubber glove exports to surge 16 percent year-on-year in the first four months of 2020 to 449 million USD.

In 2019, Thailand produced more than 20 billion rubber gloves, with exports making up 89 percent of total production.

Last year, Thailand fetched 1.2 billion USD from rubber glove exports. The country was the third-largest rubber glove exporter, after Malaysia and China.

According to Luckchai, Thailand's natural rubber production is estimated to stay at 4.7 million tonnes this year, with exports accounting for about 3.8-3.9 million tonnes./.