The Indian embassy in Phnom Penh has called on the Kingdom to “immediately” withdraw a temporary ban on imported buffalo and other meat products originating from the South Asian country.

The appeal was made during a June 3 virtual meeting between Indian ambassador to Cambodia Devyani Khobragade and Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth, the embassy said in a June 8 press release.

Cambodia on May 1 imposed an indefinite ban on the import of frozen meats and other frozen goods qualified as “high-risk” originating from India to contain the spread of Covid-19 amid a devastating second coronavirus wave in the regional economic power.

The ambassador’s plea comes amid concerns that the ban would stymie the growth of buffalo meat imports from India in 2021, which began the year on strong footing, clocking in at $9.32 million in just the first two months.

This is over 52 per cent of the $17.7 million logged in for the whole year 2020, which was up by more than 170 per cent from $6.4 million in 2019. The buffalo meat imports accounted for 12.28 per cent of bilateral trade between Cambodia and India, according to the embassy.

The embassy likened the ban to a non-tariff barrier, emphasising the absence of scientific evidence that the novel coronavirus spreads through food and packaging material, adding that the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia has collected and tested a number of samples, and certified that all were negative for the virus and fit for human consumption.

It said Khobragade “conveyed that the ban was also harmful for business sentiments, especially when both sides are trying to negotiate a bilateral free trade agreement [FTA]”.

The Kingdom is working closely with Jakarta-based Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) on a feasibility study of the merits of a bilateral FTA with India, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Pen Sovicheat told The Post on February 25.

In a May 1 letter, Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak noted that the ban is in accordance with Article 20 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and Article 12 of the ASEAN-India Commodity Trade Agreement on the basis of “urgent public health protection”.

Cambodia will also conduct testing and research for other pathogens – especially variants of the coronavirus – on these high-risk frozen products, and seek cooperation with the Indian government to find and identify sources of infection in the production, freezing, packaging and transportation of these goods, the letter said.

The Kingdom will destroy frozen goods originating from India that are found to be infected with the virus and pursue other legal action, and the commerce ministry will diplomatically bring the issue to the Indian side, it said.

Pornmoniroth assured the ambassador that the ban was only a temporary measure and would be reviewed “expeditiously”, according to the embassy.

Last month, the Ministry of Economy and Finance allowed the release of 35 containers loaded with frozen meats and other chilled goods shipped from India that have been stuck for weeks in Sihanoukville Autonomous Port customs control, after an analysis revealed no traces of the novel coronavirus.