Cambodia's fresh banana exports to China have made remarkable progress this year, despite the challenges posed by the protracted Covid-19 crisis. But concerns linger over sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards and the Kingdom’s ability to build on this positive momentum over the coming years.
The Kingdom exported 343,812.34 tonnes of fresh bananas in the first nine months of 2021, up by 46.20 per cent year-on-year, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries reported on October 1.
China was by far the top buyer of fresh Cambodian bananas at 301,628.99 tonnes, followed by Vietnam (41,169.35 tonnes), Japan (533.52 tonnes) and Singapore (480.48 tonnes).
Cambodia Rice Federation chairman Hun Lak pointed out that fresh banana exports this year have been buoyed by increased sales to China, on the back of a phytosanitary protocol signed by the ministry in 2018 that paved the way for direct shipments of fresh Cambodian bananas to the East Asian country.
He explained, however, that the deal obliges consignments to maintain a certain level of quality and comply with SPS rules.
The protocol and overall environment have created a host of opportunities for domestic and foreign investors to enter the cultivation market or upscale operations, he said.
However, investment in bananas for export to China is by and large reserved for large-scale companies, requiring a great deal of capital for warehousing, packaging, and other facilities and infrastructure, he cautioned.
He called on the public and private sector to join forces in improving domestic compliance with the standards and key provisions outlined in the protocol, especially SPS rules, to ensure the sustainability of exports to China in the long run.
Reinforcing quality and competitiveness is key, given the sheer number of players in the banana trade overseas that are raring to capture a slice of the Chinese market, he said.
As the protocol enters its fourth year, “we have to strive to maintain quality at competitive prices”, he said, predicting that exports would continue on a steady growth track.
Royal Academy of Cambodia economics researcher Ky Sereyvath noted that banana cultivation saw a marked jump last year, leading to a surge in exports to China in 2021 that has so far outpaced the slow growth seen in 2020.
He said that only six banana plantations in Cambodia have been licensed to export the fruit to China, after Chinese authorities determined them to be compliant with the necessary phytosanitary and chemical standards.
He noted that the companies authorised to export fresh bananas to China are either cooperatives or Chinese firms.
He called on the ministry and relevant parties to raise awareness among local farmers of the requirements and procedures involved in cultivation for export, noting that China would rather buy goods from Cambodia where they are generally more inexpensive, over other countries from which it may be “difficult to import”.
“I propose that it is an opportunity for Cambodia, we need to look at the supply and demand. The government as well as the agriculture ministry should expand the scope of agricultural production,” Sereyvath said, indicating that doing so would lift many poor farmers and other rural producers out of poverty, in line with the government’s vision to achieve high-income economy status by 2050.