Virtual negotiations between Phnom Penh and Beijing on a quality-control system and other matters concerning the export of the Kingdom’s “pra” type shark catfish that were initially planned for end-January will most likely be postponed, and possibly kick off early in the month of Khmer New Year, which falls on April 14 in 2022, according to a senior Fisheries Administration (FiA) official involved in the talks.

“Pra” in the Khmer language typically refers to Pangasius djambal, but could more broadly describe many – but not all – shark catfish of the Pangasius genus (Pangasius elongatus being a notable counterexample) or other genera in the Pangasiidae family such as Helicophagus and Pangasianodon, but not Pseudolais. The negotiations are expected to better outline which specific species will be able to be exported.

Ung Try, deputy director of the FiA, a unit under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, told The Post that the administration had been preparing the necessary documents for the end-January talks, but that Beijing has not provided confirmation of the meetings upon the ministry’s request.

He said Beijing’s silence was likely due to the upcoming Lunar New Year, which falls on February 1 in 2022.

Nonetheless, Cambodia still expects to be able to officially export the shark catfish to China this year, Try underscored.

He added that Chinese technical experts would also likely begin their virtual inspections in early April before the Khmer New Year, to study and assess sanitary and other associated risks.

But as he pointed out: “When we export our products to other countries, especially China, we need to have a quality-control system that covers everything from farms to packaging.

“We’ll only be able to export when inspections clearly indicate that goods are 100 per cent safe,” Try said, indicating that evaluations would be carried out annually at select farms, processing plants and packaging facilities.

Cambodian Aquaculturist Association president Sok Raden highlighted that starting exports of “pra” catfish to China would be a boon for the Kingdom, and above all the farmers, who he said continue to complain that the low prices of the fish barely cover production costs.

Although calling for exports to begin as soon as possible, Raden recognises that shipments of the catfish could face a number of obstacles.

Prices top the list of farmers’ concerns, and will be addressed at the upcoming negotiations with Beijing, he said.

“News of the authorisation to bring ‘pra’ fish to the Chinese market can be viewed as a reminder to all aquaculturists in Cambodia to be cautious, and produce good quality fish.

“This is a new turning point for raising compliance with export standards, which the FiA has been trying to negotiate with China,” the association president said.

The price of locally-raised “pra” fish remains at a low 4,000 riel ($0.98) per kilogramme, he said, confirming that this barely covers production costs.

The FiA reported that fisheries exports last year were valued at $4,099,530 and weighed in at more than 4,000 tonnes, up by over 1,000 tonnes year-on-year.

Marine capture fisheries output rose by two per cent, whereas freshwater capture fisheries and aquaculture production fell by seven per cent and 13 per cent, respectively, it said.

It listed major buyers of Cambodian fish as Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Singapore.