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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM looks to counter OPEC, push rice-exporting power

PM looks to counter OPEC, push rice-exporting power

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A man mills rice in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district last month. Cambodia aims to become the world’s ‘food basket’. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia will push to finalise a rice-exporting bloc with four other regional countries by the end of the year in a bid to become the world’s “food basket”, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

The group of countries including Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar – and known as the Association of Milled Rice Exporting Countries – would also look to become a counterbalance to Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The concept of the association had been put forward by Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thailand’s ousted Prime Minister Thakshin Shinawatra about five years ago.

“The five countries will be the world’s food supplier – what we could call the food basket of the world,” said Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh. “We would be able to supply the whole world. We would not increase prices but try to find a way to facilitate trade with [other countries].”

Hun Sen has theorised that the rice-exporting power of such a bloc could become a bargaining chip in negotiations with OPEC, according to the minister.

“When we form the association, we would have enough power to negotiate with OPEC, as they normally increase the price of gasoline. That’s the main point the PM has been considering for a long time: to make the balance between the price of gas and food. I do believe that we can make it materialise this year,” Cham Prasidh said.

The exchange of information on supply and price setting between the participating countries would be an asset to Cambodia, said Yang Saing Koma, director of Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC).

“It should have a common benefit to each country,” he said, adding that information on how the bloc would technically work was unavailable.

In 2011, Cambodia produced about 7.77 million tonnes of rice paddy, a surplus of 4.34 million tones, equal to about 2.78 million tonnes of milled rice. But the country exported only 73,000 tonnes of milled rice.

A shortage of electricity and milling facilities has hindered Cambodia’s attempts to become a major rice-exporting country. High logistics costs coupled with low regional rice prices have rendered Cambodian rice uncompetitive on the global market this year.

Kim Savuth, chairman of a newly established Federation of Cambodian Association of Milled Rice Exporters, agreed that the bloc would aid Cambodia’s export industry.

“As far as I know, the deal will be signed by the end of the year. We’re also a milled-rice exporting country. So we can get more information about the market and the price and we can share with each other,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: May Kunmakara at kunmakara.may@phnompenhpost.com

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