Cambodia hopes to begin shipping fish and fish products to European Union members next year, but still lacks sufficient health and safety regulations
Fishermen unload their catches of prahok earlier this year outside of Phnom Penh.
THE government hopes to begin exporting freshwater fish to the European market next year, but urgent steps must be taken to improve quality control measures to meet the EU's exacting safety standards, fisheries officials say.
"We are still learning about the kinds of regulations and standards that are required," Nao Thuok, chief of the Ministry of Agriculture's Fishery Administration told the Post on Monday.
The EU demands very high food safety standards that are beyond Cambodia's capacity, but the Kingdom is actively exploring ways to improve.
The European Commission inspected the fisheries sector in 2005 and has since extended technical assistance to Cambodian authorities on food legislation.
Officials here hope this will allow the government to decide what actions are needed to secure access to the EU market for Cambodia's fish and fish products.
"If we can meet the EU standards, we can sell our food products to anywhere in the world," Nao Thuok said. Currently, Cambodia exports fish to Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. According to Nao Thuok, there are about 30 local companies that export fish, an industry he estimated was worth around US$40 million a year.
Song Heng, who is employed by the local fish export company Lian Heng Investments, said the company currently ships some 2,000 tonnes of fish to the US, but is eager to expand sales to Europe as soon as possible.
"We still cannot export to the EU market, because they require that the [Cambodian] government fulfils certain inspection requirements to comply with their standards," Song Heng said.
System failures stall exports
Rafael Dochao Moreno, charge d'affaires of the delegation of the European Commission, said that before a Cambodian company can export fish to any of the EU's 27 member states, the government has to demonstrate that it has the necessary legal powers and resources to ensure credible inspection and controls throughout the production chain.
Moreno explained that fish products may only be imported into the EU if they have passed through facilities such as cold storage, processing plants, factory vessels and registered freezer vessels, all of which Cambodia currently lacks.
"As long as Cambodia's system for fisheries production and processing is not recognised, no exports can take place," Moreno told the Post by email on Wednesday.
"The problem is therefore not one of a particular product failing to meet specific standards, but one of the system as a whole failing to meet the system requirements," he added.
Other issues are the lack of legislation governing the quality of fish and fish products, and insufficient oversight of fish production and marketing chains, including inspection and certification schemes, Moreno said.
The EU is the largest importer of fish and fisheries products in the world, taking in US$23 billion worth products from non-EU countries in 2007.