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Border control a concern as harvest looms

A farmer throws harvested cassava root onto a pile in Battambang province in 2011
A farmer throws harvested cassava root onto a pile in Battambang province in 2011 Heng Chivoan

Border control a concern as harvest looms

Tighter border controls by Thai authorities could result in thousands of tonnes of Cambodian agricultural goods getting stranded at the border next month when local farmers begin harvesting their crops, sources warned yesterday.

Sum Heang, president of Pailin Chamber of Commerce and head of the province’s cassava producers association, said Thailand has been stepping up border surveillance of agricultural goods and was bringing in stricter regulations concerning sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) protocols and certificates of origin, as well as clamping down on overloaded vehicles.

“The Thai side has started to be more strict in its [enforcement] on issues such as SPS certificates and other procedural documents for exports,” she said. Heang said that the clock was ticking as September marks the traditional harvest season of cassava, the country’s second most-important crop, as well as mangoes and longan.

“We are now concerned that if we cannot [find a way to] get these documents [quickly] by September we will face delays in exporting during the harvest season,” she said.

Heang said Thai authorities were also cracking down on overloaded trucks, which was increasing the already-high cost of transportation.

Cambodia launched a similar campaign earlier this year. In July alone, a total of 190 overloaded trucks were stopped and fined more than $112,000 collectively, Transport Ministry officials said this week.

According to Heang, tighter border controls and the crackdown on overburdened vehicles were just the latest challenges facing the agricultural sector. Farmers are also struggling to cope with drought, declining prices on agricultural commodities and low domestic demand for their goods.

Officials from six provinces that share a border with Thailand met on Tuesday to discuss barriers to cross-border agricultural trade. The meeting saw governors and agricultural department officials from Pailin, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey, Preah Vihear, Battambang and Pursat explore options for streamlining border procedures.

“We are looking for solutions now, but the main challenge we’re facing is SPS certification, which is barrier for agricultural products exported from six provinces,” Say Sopath, director of Pailin’s provincial agricultural department, said yesterday.

“It takes time for exporters to apply for this certification, as [testing laboratories] are located in Phnom Penh,” he said. “We will try to negotiate with Thai side to [be more flexible] and will also send a report to our sub-national level in order to seek a solution.”

One possible solution lies in a Ministry of Agriculture plan announced last September to establish five regional food safety inspection offices near the country’s borders to facilitate the flow of cross-border agricultural trade.

Branches in Battambang, Svay Rieng, Kampong Cham, Mondulkiri and Preah Sihanouk provinces would inspect export-bound shipments of food and agricultural products, ensuring that they comply with SPS protocols and issuing certificates required by foreign purchasers.

Sophath said that the regional offices and testing laboratories would significantly reduce the time and cost of agricultural shipments by obviating the need of producers to send samples to Phnom Penh.

“The Ministry of Agriculture announced a plan to set up SPS regional branches, but until now nothing has come of it,” he said.

Hean Vanhan, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, said the government has not yet signed off on the five branch offices, and they would not be operational anytime soon.

“We are still in the process, but it is expected the government will approve them next year,” he said.

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