Cambodia exported nearly $1.385 billion worth of agricultural products in the first quarter of 2023, to 53 markets, according to the General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA), under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The January-March exports weighed in at almost 2.595 million tonnes, the GDA reported, suggesting a per-kilogramme average of 53.359 US cents.

Broken down by category, overseas sales of non-rice items over the three-month period accounted for the lion’s share at $919.694 million or 66.43 per cent, followed by paddy rice ($313.864 million; 22.67%) and milled rice ($150.977 million; 10.90%).

The GDA did not provide year-on-year comparison figures, although it reported around the same time last year that the Kingdom exported 3.434 million tonnes of agricultural products worth $1.269 billion to 57 markets in January-March 2022, or a per-kg average of 36.941 US cents.

Hun Lak, an agriculture industry veteran behind mango and banana cultivation and export operations, affirmed on April 23 that overall sales of the locally-produced high-potassium fruits in fresh form to regional markets have seen year-on-year improvements in the beginning of 2023, which he attributed to reductions in shipping prices and Beijing’s lifting of Covid-19 lockdown measures.

“Bananas are normally exported without any problems, but high-calibre fresh mangoes can be a bit difficult to come across for purchase, which leads to stock falling short of export orders. Still, exports of standard-grade mangoes – processing and such – remain normal,” he said.

He explained that Beijing’s restrictions last year, coupled with stratospheric shipping prices, meant that fresh Cambodian mangoes could not easily enter the Chinese market, causing prices to fall and prompting many growers to give up on the fruit, “leaving us short of mangoes when they’re needed”.

Lak expects bananas and mangoes to move more normally this year, leading to a significant recovery, on the back of demand from the Chinese market.

On the milled-rice front, Lun Yeng, secretary-general of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), the Kingdom’s apex rice industry body, affirmed that milled-rice exports rose on a yearly basis in the first quarter, on increased sales of fragrant varieties, especially to Europe.

He attributed the uptick in Cambodia’s fragrant milled rice exports to the Phka Rumduol jasmine variety’s crowning as the World’s Best Rice for the fifth time at the TRT (The Rice Trader) World Rice Conference in Phuket, Thailand on November 17.

“Europe has reopened its markets and exporters have been able to ship more fragrant milled rice without having to pay taxes any more. Since tariffs were lifted in early 2022, it’s a bit easier for us to sell it there than it had been, while shipping costs have also dropped,” Yeng said.

For context, the European Commission (EC), the EU’s executive arm, introduced tariffs on exports of milled and semi-milled Indica rice from Cambodia and Myanmar that took effect in January 2019, after an investigation indicated that a considerable rise in these imports were causing significant economic damage to EU producers.

The probe followed protests from Italy and Spain, which are top exporters of milled rice to Europe.

Expiring in January 2022, the safeguard regulations required Cambodia to pay import duty of €175 ($194) per tonne in the first year, €150 per tonne in the second, and €125 per tonne in the third.

In Case T‑246/19, the General Court (ECG) of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) on November 9, 2022 ruled that the import duties were illegal and that the investigation had not gathered sufficient evidence, and annulled the EC’s January 16, 2019 implementing regulation 2019/67 that imposed the safeguard measures.

Meanwhile, agriculture ministry secretary of state Yang Saing Koma on April 21 reaffirmed his ministry’s determination to boost rice production nationwide and build a supply chain that better guarantees buyers for farmers’ paddy as well as genetically-pure seeds, while ensuring high-quality paddy for rice mills.

He also reaffirmed the ministry’s commitment to increasing the Kingdom’s milled rice exports past the one-million-tonne mark.

The government had pledged back in August 2010 to export one million tonnes of milled rice by 2015. However, the Kingdom has fallen short each year, at 538,396 tonnes in 2015, 542,144 tonnes in 2016, 635,679 tonnes in 2017, 626,225 tonnes in 2018, 620,106 tonnes in 2019, an all-time record 690,829 tonnes in 2020, 617,069 tonnes in 2021, and 637,004 tonnes in 2022.