The Ministry of Commerce is ramping up its efforts to stamp out “unethical” rice exporters mixing their produce with rice from neighbouring countries, as the European Union becomes increasingly concerned about rice tampering.
In an open letter issued on May 11 the ministry said it will stop issuing Certificates of Origin to exporters found to be using non-Cambodian rice, as this could lead to the European Union withdrawing its duty-free trade preferences that Cambodia enjoys under the Everything But Arms agreement.
“Recently, the EU has increased monitoring of rice imports to investigate the origins of rice imported, with the aim to pause or ban the import of rice without clear origins,” the letter reads.
The Ministry of Commerce (MoC) urged the president of Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), rice exporters and millers to strictly comply with the code of conduct on rice exports to the EU agreed upon last year.
“MOC will have a group of inspectors who will launch surprise inspections in rice exporting companies and rice millers to investigate the issue,” the letter added.
The code of conduct was created to ensure that rice exported from Cambodia was actually grown in Cambodia and not mixed with Vietnamese rice, after Oryza, an industry publication, reported the EU raising concerns last year.
The EU Ambassador to Cambodia Jean-Francois Cautain said yesterday that the EU had become increasingly concerned recently and that ensuring the Kingdom’s rice exports were 100 per cent homegrown was the responsibility of the Cambodian
“Indeed, as for any other product exported to the EU under EBA, were the rule of origin not respected, it may lead to an investigation by the EU,” he said in an email.
“We are welcoming the constructive approach of both the Royal Government of Cambodia and the rice exporters in putting in place proper mechanisms to ensure that the rule of origin is fully respected for rice exports to the EU.”
Kan Kunthy, CEO of Battambang Rice Investment Company, said yesterday that the problem came down to “only a few unethical exporters” that the MoC and CRF were currently investigating. “It will cause a huge impact on rice industry if the EU no longer granted Cambodia with EBA, as 50 per cent of the country’s total exports go to the EU.”
Kunthy said that the EBA was a crucial stepping stone to maintaining growth in the sector but that they need to prepare for withdrawal of the scheme once Cambodia moves to a middle-income status.
“All we can do without EBA is to increase our competitiveness and compete with other exporters from the region,” he added.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ANANTH BALIGA