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A rice farmer checks his immerged plantation of rice near Vercelli
A rice farmer checks his immerged plantation of rice near Vercelli, northern Italy, earlier this year. AFP

Italy rice row not on agenda

Prime Minister Hun Sen and more than 50 other heads of state from Asia and Europe will meet next week as part of the tenth Asia-Europe Meeting Summit (ASEM).

Held from October 16 to 17 in Milan, Italy, the biennial summit will this year focus on strengthening economic ties between the two regions, which together represent some 60 per cent of the world’s population and about half of global GDP.

“Cambodia is not a big country, it is a relatively small country, but in such a forum it is a country equal to all the others,” Alain Vandersmissen, charge d’affaires at the European Union Delegation to Cambodia, said yesterday.

“That can really give to Cambodia an amplification of its role, ideas and representation. And I would guess that this is important for the Cambodian government in the context of the ASEAN Economic Community 2015.”

The summit, which is being hosted by the Italian government, comes just days after Confagricoltura Novara, Italy’s peak body for farmers and agricultural production, issued yet another call to the EU to trim Cambodia’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) import preferences.

Paola Battioli, head of the farmers union, said on October 2 on the global rice industry website, Oryza.com, that up to 100,000 hectares of European rice growing area could be “abandoned” if the EU does not put a stop to zero-duty rice imports from Cambodia.

“There is no way a European farmer can face competition with incoming rice of Cambodian Indica,” Battiolli said.

“Italian Long B milled rice has a production cost of €550 ($693) per tonne. To be competitive, it should cost no more than €430 ($542) per tonne, and this means bankruptcy for farmers.”

The Oryza report states that EU imports of Cambodian rice increased 60 per cent between September 2013 and August this year, totalling 245,000 tonnes.

In response to mounting pressure from that country’s agricultural sector, the Italian government in July submitted a complaint to the EU Commission over Cambodia’s allegedly unfair EBA preferences.

When asked if Cambodia and Italy would discuss the complaint during the ASEM Summit, the local EU Delegation’s representative, Vandersmissen said it was not on the summit’s agenda.

“What happens in the corridors, I have no idea,” Vandersmissen said.

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