The Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) expects the scale and reach of the Kingdom’s milled-rice exports to expand as the public and private stakeholders work together to reinforce their partnerships with pertinent parties, and set out to regularly take part at major international events to demonstrate on the global stage the high quality and repute of locally-grown grains.

Among the Cambodian rice community’s proudest achievements is the fifth-time crowning of local variety “Phka Rumduol” as the World’s Best Rice, at the TRT (The Rice Trader) World Rice Conference in November last year.

Phka Rumduol had previously won the honour at the competition in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2018, finishing second in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The long-grain jasmine rice variety has emerged as a top choice of international buyers, and is one of the varieties exported under the “Malys Angkor” certification mark.

Chan Sokheang, president of the CRF, Cambodia’s apex rice industry body, told The Post on May 23 that the federation consistently takes part in major national and international trade fairs to advertise the quality of the locally-grown grains, boost overseas sales thereof, and pursue exporting to new markets.

Sokheang was speaking from Bangkok, Thailand, where he is leading a CRF team to attend the THAIFEX – Anuga Asia 2023 annual trade fair, held from May 23-27.

He claimed that THAIFEX – Anuga Asia is the largest food-related exhibition in Southeast Asia and attracts a lot of big-ticket investors and international companies. This year’s edition is expected to draw more than 3,000 businesses from 43 countries, he said.

“The event is being attended by numerous major-league international guests and investors to learn more, explore opportunities, and discover potential partners for distribution and export. Because German companies are co-hosting this year, it’ll be larger than in years past,” he added.

Sokheang believes the trade fair may enable Cambodian milled rice to gain a foothold in new markets, especially in Africa, the Arab world, and the US. “I hope that more new countries and customers will be aware of the quality of Cambodian milled rice and able to place orders in the future,” he said.

‘New concepts’

Speaking at a January 5 press conference on “New Concepts for the Cambodian Agriculture Sector”, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina stressed that the development of the sector rests on increasing exports of safe and high-quality products.

This, he said, can be achieved by increasing productivity, creating value and improving competitiveness in international markets.

“Regarding local markets, the ministry is focusing on new concepts which will ensure the stability of the prices of agricultural produce. One consequence of this will be the prevention of food insecurity for consumers, producers and distributors alike,” he said.

Where international markets are concerned, Tina said the ministry is pushing for increased exports of top-notch goods that may fetch premium prices. He described these as “key” or “luxury” products.

“We shouldn’t just be focused on producing large quantities of any particular product, and then trying to compete in international markets. Instead, we envision producing high-quality, high-value products that will increase profit margins,” he added.

To realise this vision, Tina said the ministry will work closely with the Ministry of Commerce to market the Kingdom’s luxury products to international markets, especially the countries and blocs which Cambodia has free trade agreements (FTA).

An FTA is an international treaty between two or more economies that aims to lessen or do away with specific import and export barriers while generally preserving safety, security, health and other legitimate regulatory objectives. Such a pact can also enable or encourage stronger economic ties among members in areas such as investment and intellectual property protection.

Meanwhile, Cambodia has asked Beijing to consider a deal that would commit Chinese state-owned China Oil and Foodstuffs Corp (COFCO) to purchase 500,000 tonnes of domestically-produced milled rice, which is 25 per cent more than a recently completed arrangement.

The deal would come in the form of the seventh in a series of memorandums of understanding (MoU), with the previous iteration – entailing 400,000 tonnes – having been rolled out in the fourth quarter of 2021.

The request was made at a virtual meeting on the sixth MoU, held on May 17 between Cambodian state-owned Green Trade Co, the CRF and COFCO, the federation noted in a statement.

This could bring the Kingdom closer to its goal of exporting one million tonne of the processed grains in a single calendar year. Although the government in August 2010 pledged to meet that target by 2015, the Kingdom has fallen short every year.

Annual totals reached 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 last year.

CRF data indicates that last year’s milled-rice exports were to the tune of $414.29 million. This is equivalent to 34.38 per cent of the $1.205 billion in total exports of “cereals” – corresponding to Chapter 10 of the Harmonised System (HS) – posted by Customs (GDCE) for 2022.

Meanwhile, the agriculture ministry reported that Cambodia exported 176,581 tonnes of milled rice in the first quarter of 2023, ended March 31. Fragrant rice contributed the bulk of the exports at 152,347 tonnes or 86.28 per cent, followed by white rice (18,739 tonnes; 10.61%), and parboiled rice (5,495 tonnes; 3.11%).

China was the largest buyer of Cambodian milled rice in the January-March period, accounting for 84,773 tonnes or 48.01 per cent, followed by the EU (56,313 tonnes; 31.89%) and ASEAN (9,920 tonnes; 5.62%), while 18 other countries and territories bought 25,575 tonnes or 14.48 per cent.

The Kingdom also exported 1.562 million tonnes of paddy – exclusively to Vietnam – of which 860,550 tonnes or 55.11 per cent were accompanied by phytosanitary certificates.