Cambodia earned nearly $3.070 billion from agricultural exports in the first 10 months of this year, preliminary data based on exporters’ invoices released by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries showed.

Future sales to the regional markets of China and South Korea are widely expected to be buoyed by duty-free access under key trade pacts that took effect this year.

In January-October, milled-rice exports were to the tune of $435.408 million, weighing in at 509,249 tonnes, marking a 10.67-per-cent or 49,080-tonne year-on-year increase. By contrast, paddy exports amounted to $492.903 million, or 2.440 million tonnes – down 8.27 per cent or 219,878 tonnes.

Non-rice items clocked in at $2.142 billion or 4.670 million tonnes, up 10.63 per cent from 4.221 million tonnes, the ministry reported, listing major items as: tapioca starch and cassava chips and pulp; raw and processed cashew nuts; corn kernels; mung beans and soybeans; fresh bananas; fresh and dried mangoes; oil palm (in fresh fruit bunches, or FFB); peppercorns; tobacco; and “assorted vegetables”.

The “assorted vegetables” category does not include a number of popular crops that may be considered vegetables in the culinary sense. Notable examples of excluded items are: legumes including mung beans and soybeans; grains such as corn and rice; spices like peppercorn and chilli peppers; and cassava.

Speaking to The Post on December 21, Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) vice-president Lim Heng suggested that overall growth cultivation has continued to grow each year, which he said has created new opportunities for export-oriented initiatives.

Such examples include free trade agreements (FTA), namely the bilateral deals with China and South Korea as well as the multilateral Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which have all improved access to international markets for Cambodian-made agricultural items, he said.

An FTA is an international treaty between two or more economies designed to reduce or eliminate certain barriers to imports and exports among them, generally while safeguarding safety, security, health and other legitimate regulatory objectives. Such a pact can also serve to facilitate and promote greater economic ties among signatories in areas such as investment and intellectual property protection.

Heng added that the preferential tariff treatment provided to Cambodian agricultural goods under the FTAs has drawn in more foreign investment and thereby boosted domestic cultivation and exports.

“I’ve also seen that our agricultural products today are being made in accordance with international destination markets, raising the quality of the items tendered for export,” he said.

Royal Academy of Cambodia economics researcher Ky Sereyvath echoed Heng’s observation of a marked step-up in the quality of agricultural products over the last few years, which he said better correspond to export market requirements.

At the same time, the manufacturing industry has witnessed remarkable development, he said, adding: “I find that our processing sector is also attracting a lot of investors who are contributing to the creation of job and income opportunities for farmers.”

The CCC’s Heng also recommended a number of avenues to maintain growth and sustainability in the local agricultural sector.

These include: promoting local products and working to improve overall market access overseas; recalibrating the underlying tax regime and associated provisions; and more clearly defining the pertinent roles and responsibilities of the institutions involved.

He also mentioned: enabling import-export procedures to be carried out at one window service offices (OWSO); and ensuring that related public services and payments thereof are dealt with in a one-stop-shop procedure at the commune level as well as via digital channels.