The Ministry of Agriculture has rejected a request from private-sector rubber firms – led by agricultural tycoon Mong Reththy – for a meeting to discuss the floundering fortunes of the nation’s rubber sector, claiming the ministry was busy and was already addressing the issue.
The rejection was in response to a request by Reththy, who owns a rubber land concession, for a short-term suspension on export taxes on rubber and tax on profit for plantation owners.
In a letter dated March 22, Reththy suggested that once rubber prices reached $2,000 per tonne, the government could resume collecting an export tax. He proposed a tax of $30 per tonne when exports were valued at over $2,000 per tonne.
In its response, the Agriculture Ministry said it was “too busy” to schedule a meeting with the private sector, and had, through a sub-decree on March 4, created a different export-tax schedule for rubber exporters.
Earlier this month, the ministry released a revised rubber export tax, with producers paying no taxes when the export price is below $1,000 per tonne, $150 per tonne on shipments valued between $1,000 and $2,000 per tonne, and $200 per tonne on shipments up to $3,000 per tonne.
Reththy, owner of the Mong Reththy Group, said that the meeting was required, especially after the March 4 sub-decree did not address all of the private sector’s pending issues. While Reththy did not comment on the ministry’s rejection, he said he was perplexed as to why the contents of his letter had been made public.
“I don’t understand why they need to publish the denial letter in public,” he said. “They can just send the letter back in an envelope saying that the ministry is too busy to talk about the issue.”
Eang Sophallet, spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry, said the ministry had not made the letter public, and also that this issue was unrelated to disputes the ministry has had with Reththy in the past.
“Maybe he or his staff posted it on his Facebook page,” Sophallet suggested. “He is always complaining to us, but ask him what he has done to address the rubber sector’s issues.”
The strained relations between Reththy and the ministry began in February when Reththy lashed out at the ministry after a leaked letter from the Council of Ministers claimed that Reththy had not paid the rental fees for his palm oil concession in Preah Sihanouk province.
At the time, Eang Sophallet claimed that local media had misquoted him when they reported that he had accused the agro conglomerate of not making timely payments.
Sophallet said there were two reasons why the rubber meeting was rejected – a meeting had already been held with the rubber association and producers in Siem Reap, and the ministry joined with 11 major rubber producing countries to find solutions to the issue.
“We have already met with other rubber producing countries, as well as the rubber association and producers,” he said. “Also, the ministry’s schedule is already full.”