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EU countries move to limit rice imports from Cambodia

A farmer harvests his rice crop at a paddy in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district in 2015.
A farmer harvests his rice crop at a paddy in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district in 2015. Vireak Mai

EU countries move to limit rice imports from Cambodia

Italy, along with six other European Union countries, has filed a fresh request to European Commission to limit the volume of rice imported from the Kingdom by activating a “safeguard clause” that allows EU member states to impose barriers to protect against trade imbalances.

The Italian government submitted an official request to the European Commission on November 20 calling for restrictions on the amount of imported rice entering the European market from Cambodia, according to a report yesterday by Euractiv news.

While the report called the request “trailblazing” and a more concerted effort compared to a similar submission to the commission in 2016, local industry insiders said that Italy’s statements usually fall on deaf ears and are an annual protectionist complaint.

Cambodian rice exports to Europe have more than doubled in the past five years, creating a trade imbalance that totalled $4.6 billion by the end of last year, according to the report.

The Italian Ministry of Agriculture urged that its request was reasonable because the flood of Cambodian long grain rice into Europe, which registers at a third of the price of domestic rice, has led to a sharp drop in prices and overproduction.

Under the Everything But Arms (EBA) program, Cambodia does not pay any tax on its rice exports to EU member states.

Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodian Rice Federation, said this was not the first time that Italy had tried to raise import limitations against Cambodian rice to the European Commission.

“EU member countries, especially Italy, always raise the same complaints about Cambodian imports every year, but this will not impact us because we offer types of rice that are different to anything that is grown in Europe,” he said. “We only export long grain fragrant rice to Europe, which is different than the short grains grown in Italy.”

He added that Cambodia’s long grain rice was popular among Asian consumers living in Europe.

“European delegates should be more concerned about how to maintain the quality of their rice in the long term,” he said. “We are now in a free market, so delegates should not be concerned.”

He added that he had met with a European delegate recently, but had been assured that Cambodia’s high volume of rice exports was not a highly contentious issue despite perceived concerns by the EU over the Kingdom’s political deterioration.

“Political issues are separate and will not impact our rice industry,” he insisted.

Chan Sokheang, executive director of HCC group Co Ltd, was similarly optimistic that the political environment in Cambodia would not cause the commission to seriously consider Italy’s request.

“It is the right of the European Commission to decide to limit rice exports to the European market in light of Italy’s request and current political tensions in Europe,” he said. “Even so, a limit on our exports will not impact our rice industry, because we have a lot of deals with China.”

Long Kemvichet, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, said he was not worried about Italy’s recent request to limit rice exports, because the commission had never responded to such requests in the past.

“This issue has been raised several times already, but the commission never reacted positively to a request like this,” he said. “But we have other markets for export as well.

This is about an issue in the European market, it is not an issue for us.”

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