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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Italy millers slam ‘unfair’ EBA

A labourer harvests rice in Kandal province’s Prek Russey village
A labourer harvests rice in Kandal province’s Prek Russey village earlier this year. Italy is arguing that tax-free imports from Cambodia are making for unfair competition in the rice sector. Heng Chivoan

Italy millers slam ‘unfair’ EBA

Cambodia duty-free rice exports to the European Union have this week come under fresh attack from producers in Italy, who say the beneficial treatment is restricting the potential of Italian rice exports.

An Italian agriculture collective of farmers, which includes representatives from the Italian Association of Rice Industries, will protest in some of Italy’s largest rice-growing areas, according to a July 7 report by rice industry publication Oryza.

The cause of the uproar, says Oryza, is the preferential treatment Cambodia receives under the European Union’s Everything But Arms scheme, which allows tax-free access to EU markets for all states on the UN’s list of least developed countries, which includes Cambodia. Italian rice producers say cheaper Cambodian imports create an unfair playing field for their products.

In a statement yesterday, the EU ambassador to Cambodia, Jean-Francois Cautain, said he could not comment on any potential complaint the Italian rice industry has without it first being officially registered.

“In [the] case [that] the European Commission receives an official complaint, it will review it and see whether it contains sufficient prima facie evidence that the conditions for imposing a safeguard measure are met or not,” Cautain said.

“If the European Commission would then decide to initiate the investigation, it will publish an information notice . . . in the Official Journal.”

Cautain reiterated the intention of the Everything But Arms program to foster growth in developing countries. He also noted that Italy itself is
a signatory to the scheme.

“We cannot speculate, however, on what Member States may or may not plan to do regarding imports of individual products and the Commission cannot comment on discussions with potential complainants,” Cautain’s statement reads.

Cambodian rice exports, a large majority of which go to the EU, have increased dramatically, going from 200,000 tonnes at the end of 2012 to nearly 380,000 tonnes at the end of last year.

The acting secretary-general of the Cambodia Rice Federation, David Van, responded to the concerns of Italian farmers in an opinion piece published in the Post on Monday.

Van said Cambodian exports had merely replaced those from countries, such as Thailand, that exported less than before. Therefore, he said, market pressure on Italian farmers would have changed little from previous years.

Van said that one of the more popular Cambodian grain varieties – jasmine rice – was grown very little if at all in the EU, thus creating room for exports from the Kingdom to meet demand.

He also took aim at the EU’s own agricultural subsidies.

“The EU provides hundreds of euros per hectare annually to Italian rice farmers for keeping the production of paddy and rice fields in operation,” Van wrote. “These are the very farmers lobbying against Cambodian rice, which is not subsidised in any way by the Cambodian government.”

The General Confederation of Italian Agriculture, or Confagricoltura, the members of which include 19 regional and more than 2,000 local federations across Italy, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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