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Illegal rice imports still pouring across border

A man unloads a bag of rice at an export warehouse in Phnom Penh last year.
A man unloads a bag of rice at an export warehouse in Phnom Penh last year. Vireak Mai

Illegal rice imports still pouring across border

More than a month has elapsed since the government vowed to strengthen its borders to halt illegal imports of rice, yet little has been done to stem the flow of illicit rice shipments flooding into Cambodia from its foreign neighbours and undermining the export efforts of local producers.

“We are still waiting to hear from the government on how it is taking measures on our issues, including rice imports from Vietnam,” Moul Sarith, acting secretary-general of the Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF), said yesterday.

“Until now, we did not receive any report from the government, though we’ve heard that the amount of imported rice has declined slightly.”

In March, the CRF called on the government to take urgent measures aimed at addressing two key challenges to the nation’s domestic rice industry, namely millers’ insufficient access to capital and the flood of illegal rice imports from neighbouring countries.

The request followed a separate initiative by the Cambodian Rice Industry Survival Implementation Strategy (CRISIS) group, which provided a nine-point action plan to address what it described as an industry on the brink of collapse.

On March 30, the government agreed to strengthen entry points along Cambodia’s borders to block illegal rice imports, while promising to dissolve any company’s certificate of origin that is caught mixing contraband rice for export.

Penn Sovicheat, director of the domestic trade department at the Ministry of Commerce, said that the government was still working to resolve the border control issue, but it was “impossible” to set a quota on imported rice due to Cambodia’s obligations to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

“It’s difficult to set a quota on rice imports as this contravenes AEC policy, but we can increase the tax on rice imports,” he said.

Sovicheat added that the government was also working toward implementing the other issues raised by rice millers and exporters.

On April 6, the government waived the value-added tax (VAT) on agricultural products in a bid to reduce the price that rice millers must pay for paddy in an effort to make locally milled rice more price-competitive.

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