While the European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht never told the Ministry of Commerce that Cambodian rice was “30 per cent” mixed with the same product from Vietnam, he did say Cambodia had to better ensure that its harvest was homegrown and not from another country, a spokesman for the commissioner said yesterday.
“Rice exports from Cambodia have been rising very fast in recent years,” said John Clancy, spokesman for the trade commissioner, in an email.
The original comments date to an article last week in industry publication Oryza. In the report, the commissioner also says that Cambodia risks losing its Everything But Arms (EBA) status with the EU.
Cambodia’s rice exports for the first 11 months of the year totalled more than 332,000 tonnes, almost doubling from the 171,000 tonnes during the same period last year, and dwarfing the 2009 total.
Cambodia, unlike Vietnam, benefits from an EBA agreement with the EU, which gives developing nations duty-free and quota-free shipping on products excluding armaments to all European countries.
European Union nations accounted for more than 60 per cent, or 200,000 tonnes, of Cambodia’s total rice exports as of November 2013. Poland, France, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and Germany imported more than 47 per cent of the total figure.
The EU’s ambassador to Cambodia, Jean-Francois Cautain, said the dramatic rise will be closely monitored as the sector and rice-producing EU countries are sensitive to increased imports and potential market disturbances.
“In that respect the origin of the Cambodian rice should be fully ensured. The EU is in contact with the Cambodian authorities on this matter,” he said.
Mey Kalyan, senior adviser to Cambodia’s Supreme National Economic Council, called on the government to investigate the issue of rice origin contamination amid fears that changes to the country’s EBA status could have consequences.
“We need to get to the bottom of the issue, find hard evidence and take corrective measures,” he said. “Removing Cambodia’s EBA status could have disastrous effects on the whole rice sector, future exports to the EU, our pride as an emerging exporter, our trust in doing business, our branding as a world-class rice exporter, and we may not reach the one-million-tonne rice export target of 2015.”
In response to the trade commissioner’s concerns, the Alliance of Rice Producers and Exporters of Cambodia (ARPEC) will form a Code of Conduct in a bid to protect the country’s rice exports.
ARPEC said in a statement released yesterday that all Cambodian rice exporters had taken note of the views and would sign the Code of Conduct with the Ministry of Commerce to self-regulate exports.
ARPEC deputy secretary David Van said the issues raised in the Oryza article were informal and emanated from rumours within “EU circles”.
“As far as the rice exporters are concerned, we maintain that until clear evidence is produced by the EU, we do not condone their claims,” he said.
In response to suggestions that some Cambodian rice could be contaminated during transit to Vietnam-based milling facilities, Van said the external process does not mean the two rice origins are mixed. He added that the low supply of Cambodian milling facilities producing the country’s rapidly increasing harvest forces farmers to send their rice to Vietnam for milling.
“But all rice grown, harvested, milled and exported in Cambodia is 100 per cent our product,” Van said.