A visiting delegation from the European Union met with the Cambodia Rice Federation yesterday to discuss concerns raised by Italian rice producers, who say duty-free Cambodian rice imports are undercutting the Italian market.
Sok Puthyvuth, president of the Cambodia Rice Federation, said yesterday that the purpose of the meeting was for the delegation to have a greater understanding of Cambodia’s rice industry, to better inform their discussions with Italian producers.
“We clarified that Cambodian rice exports to Europe are largely only fragrant rice, so it does not affect the [Italian] farmers,” he said, Puthyvuth said that Italian rice farmers produce largely a white rice variety that did not compete with Cambodia’s fragrant rice.
“The European delegation appears to understand our actual situation, and they should continue to support us on trade facilitation for further growth,” he said.
In the past, Italy has petitioned the EU to remove Cambodian rice from the Everything But Arms scheme, which grants duty-free access to the EU, citing increasing competition from the Kingdom.
The Italians said an increased rice import quota from Cambodia had contributed to Italian prices dipping below their production costs.
Leaked excerpts from a dossier from the Italian rice industry claimed that the special status granted to Cambodia had triggered a 22 per cent decline in annual rice plantings in Italy. An Italian collective of rice farmers conducted protests last year in the country’s largest rice-growing regions.
According to the rice industry website Oryza, the Italians had requested the EU to include a new clause that would end the EU’s zero-tariff rice imports from Cambodia.
According to a release yesterday from the CRF, Cambodia is now the second largest rice exporter to countries in the EU.
Cambodia shipped close to 400,000 tonnes of rice last year, and thanks largely to the EBA, 66 per cent went to the EU.
Song Saran, president of rice exporter Amru Rice Cambodia, said yesterday that, to date, the EBA had made a significant contribution to Cambodia’s rice industry, but there was still much more to be achieved under the favourable export status.
“The EBA is important, but it has not helped Cambodian farmers reach the decent living conditions yet, as compared farmers in Europe,” he said. “So, the EBA is still necessary for Cambodia, because we still need access to the European community market,” he said.
Cambodian rice producers were battling to compete with their neighbouring countries, and had made little impact on the competitiveness of EU farmers, Saran added.
A request for comment from the EU had not been returned by press time yesterday.