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GI products closer to fruition

A worker transfers silk yarn to spindles at a silk plantation in Siem Reap province
A worker transfers silk yarn to spindles at a silk plantation in Siem Reap province. Scott Howes

GI products closer to fruition

Three of Cambodia’s most iconic natural products – Thma Koul rice, Kampot durian and Cambodian silk – have been earmarked by the government to obtain the World Trade Organization’s Geographical Indication (GI) status.

Speaking to reporters after a press conference on GI registration at the Ministry of Commerce yesterday, Ouk Prachea, secretary of state at the ministry, said he was in talks with representatives of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to assist with funding to boost the three products to the exclusive status.

“We are actively discussing and negotiating with each other,” Prachea said. “We hope that the agreement will be soon completed.”

The WTO’s GI status proves to buyers and consumers that a product is uniquely made and hails from a specific area.

Obtaining the certification is a long process. Producers must first form an association to clearly define the product’s characteristics and to lay out a unique set of rules regarding the cultivation of the product within the designated area. An external body must then step in to certify quality.

Producers of GI products must adhere to the specific growing methods and rules in order to maintain the status.

According to Prachea, the cost to register just one product for GI status is about $1 million.

Kampot pepper and Kampong Speu palm sugar are currently the only Cambodian GI products, and both have seen notable increases in sales since being granted the status.

At the end of this year’s harvest season in April, 30 tonnes of palm sugar had been sold for 5,500 riel ($1.30) per kilo, up from 25 tonnes last year for 4,500 riel per kilo, according Kampong Speu Palm Sugar Promotion Association president Sam Sareun.

“I expect that our sales volume will continue to increase larger next year thanks to more recognition of GI-status products from the public,” he said.

Lim Bunheng, president and CEO of rice exporter LORAN Group, which has a milling factory in Thma Koul district, welcomed the ministry’s announcement that it is seeking highly sought-after status for his district’s rice.

“It will encourage farmers to expand their production and further focus on good-quality rice,” he said.

But different industries have varying levels of maturity and will require different approaches when working towards obtaining GI status, cautioned Ke Mony, deputy secretary-general of the Khmer Silk Village Association in Banteay Meanchey province.

“It is not necessary to register GI status for silk now because our production capacity is very low,” Mony said, adding that he feared orders may go unfulfilled if Cambodian Silk gets the certification.

While agreeing in principle to the marketing potential of GI, Mony said that silk production, at about 1 tonne per year, was currently too low to meet market demand.

“I think our priority now is to increase production before trying to promote and market the product,” he added.

The ministry recently listed 22 products, including Battambang milled rice, Svay Rieng province’s Smach milled rice, Siem Reap prahok fish paste and Kratie province grapefruit, as unique, local products that would benefit from GI status.

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