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Rice is harvested from a field using a small harvest machine in Tbong Khmum provice last year.
Rice is harvested from a field using a small harvest machine in Tbong Khmum provice last year. Heng Chivoan

Millers push for China access

Amid concerns that the European Union could reject shipments of Cambodian rice, exporters are pushing for more access to China as an alternative market for the Kingdom’s principal agricultural commodity.

Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), said just 26 Cambodian millers have satisfied China’s sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards, making them eligible to export rice to the Chinese market.

However, another 55 millers “have the quality and capacity to export to China” and have requested an inspection by China’s AQSIQ (General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine) to approve their shipments for export.

“We met Ministry of Agriculture officials to seek their assistance in opening the door wider for rice exports to China,” Lak said yesterday. “We hope that officials from AQSIQ China will come to inspect the rice millers’ production lines soon.”

According to Lak, Cambodia’s rice industry has struggled since 2015, with about 10 millers forced into bankruptcy and others deep in debt. He said the global market has become increasingly “narrow and strict”, and unless Cambodian exporters can develop new markets the rice industry could soon collapse.

The latest challenge to the sector is the EU’s call on farmers to eradicate the use of the fungicide Tricyclazole in rice production. The European Commission has given Cambodian producers of white rice until June and fragrant rice until December to meet its revised threshold levels – 0.01 milligrams of Tricyclazole residue per kilo of rice, far below the current limit of 1 milligram per kilo.

While the extent of Tricyclazole use in Cambodia is unclear, Lak said it could be difficult for producers to ensure the compound’s complete eradication in such a short timeframe.

“We are concerned that if we cannot comply with their requirement we will lose this market, even though we have requested that the EU give us more time to build our capacity before the regulation comes into effect,” he said

The EU is Cambodia’s largest market for rice, accounting for 63 percent of the 542,144 tonnes the country exported last year. China, however, has grown to become a major buyer in recent years, importing 127,460 tonnes of Cambodian rice last year and agreeing to import up to 200,000 tonnes this year.

Song Saran, CEO of Amru Rice, one of the country’s biggest exporters, said that while the EU’s decision to eradicate Tricyclazole poses a challenge, Cambodia’s use of the fungicide was still quite limited compared to its rival rice-producing neighbours.

“It’s a new challenge for us, but we should be able to manage as this chemical is not used extensively in rice production here,” he said. “However, the government should control rice imports and smuggling to prevent low-quality [tainted rice] from being mixed in with our exports.”

Saran said the Ministry of Agriculture should work quickly to have more rice millers approved for export to China given the market’s size and potential growth.

“The 26 [approved] rice millers will not be able to supply the annual quota set by our agreement with China,” he said.

Hean Vanhan, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, said rice millers need to understand more about the demands and criteria of buyers in order to compete in international markets.

“If they have suitable quality and standards they will be able to export their rice and expand their markets, including in big markets like China,” he said.

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