The industry body representing Cambodia’s leading rice exporters has urged the government to create a licensing procedure for the import of milled rice, which it said harms the competitiveness of local rice and presents health concerns.
Kim Savuth, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), said Cambodia is the only country in ASEAN that allows traders to import rice without a licence.
The imported rice is sold in the domestic market at a cheaper price than Cambodian rice, and often disguised as local product.
“We are trying to get the government to enforce licensing as a solution,” he said during a press conference yesterday. “If all rice importers are required to have a licence, then the government will be better equipped to control [rice importation].”
According to Savuth, approximately 700,000 tonnes of milled rice was imported in the first eight months of the year. As licences are not required to import the rice, the shipments go largely unmonitored, which increases the risk of health threats.
He added that shipments of milled rice with moisture levels exceeding 15 per cent spoil quickly.
“Since the human eye cannot see that the rice is spoiled, we will unknowingly eat it, which is dangerous to our health”, he warned. “When we licence rice importation, we will be following the same standards as other ASEAN countries. And when we check the quality according to food safety standards the health of citizens will be better.”
It is also hoped the import licences will prevent traders from importing cheaper foreign milled rice to mix with higher-quality local production – a practice the CRF says jeopardises the reputation of Cambodian rice exports.
However, Hean Vanhan, deputy director general of the Ministry of Agriculture, argued that rice-import licences were unnecessary, and would not solve the sector’s underlying problems.
He said the imminent creation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) would remove trade barriers including import licences, rendering them useless.
“If [imported] rice is being sold for a cheaper price, we need to consider our production cost and confront the issue when we join the AEC in order to strengthen our capacity to compete in the market,” he said.
Vanhan said what was really needed was to ensure that all imported rice was accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate, which certifies it was inspected for pests, toxins and harmful organisms.
He added that the ministry already has plans to expand its monitoring of cross-border shipments.
“We are going to strengthen the phytosanitary inspection offices along our borders so that we can prevent pests from transferring disease to citizens,” he said.