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Rift as gov’t guts fish import ban

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The Kingdom imports at least $60 million worth of fisheries products from Vietnam each year to meet domestic demand. Heng Chivoan

Rift as gov’t guts fish import ban

Nearly a month on after the government lifted a ban on a slew of fisheries products, Cambodia remains divided over the ramifications of the move, with fish farmers lamenting a plunge in commodity prices as economic pundits argue that the curb constitutes a constraint on the free market.

The truth of the matter is that the Kingdom imports at least $60 million worth of fisheries products from Vietnam each year to meet domestic demand, VietnamPlus reported, citing the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade.

While Cambodia is not a decisive market for Vietnamese fisheries products, the Kingdom’s demand for its neighbour’s products considerably contributes to the stability of cross-border trade, as well as job creation and income for locals, the online news agency said.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on January 8 announced a suspension on all imports of the “main four” – “pra” (Pangasius djambal), “po” (Pangasius larnaudii), “andeng” (catfish of the Clarias genus) and “chdo” (giant snakehead or Channa micropeltes) – as well as myriad other fish that can be farmed locally.

The ministry retracted the ban just a month later on February 8.

Lim Sokheng, owner of a fish farm with four floating pens in Phnom Penh’s northernmost Prek Phnov district, told The Post that the price of pra fish hiked up to around 4,600 riel ($1.13) per kilogramme while the ban was in effect.

Sokheng said his farm yields in excess of 1,000 tonnes of the fish per season, most of which supplies markets in Phnom Penh or is distributed to other provinces.

He said: “Curbing imports helps local products build up a strong market and sustain affordable prices. Only with more government policies to prop up aquaculture farmers will fish have a flourishing market.”

Ministry of Commerce secretary of state Sok Sopheak told a consultative meeting on the ban last month that the government should support the free flow of fisheries products – even the “main four” – across the Kingdom’s borders, as dictated by demand.

“Cambodia should strengthen local aquaculture’s competitive capability based on the principles of free trade and optimise the development and implementation of technical regulations to ensure food quality and safety,” he said.

Cambodian Aquaculturist Association (CCC) president Sok Raden told The Post in January that the government prioritises the local market over international ones and is encouraging building additional fisheries production capacity to ensure the adequacy of domestic supply.

But he said it should spruce up infrastructure for the fisheries sector, with emphasis on ensuring a sustainable water system.

“In a bid to boost exports, we can produce our own competitive, high-grade fish feed at reasonable prices – and [benefit from] low electricity costs – as long as our products are of good quality.

“The government is strongly pushing for aquaculture so that we can export fisheries products, but we need financiers who are willing to invest in the sector,” Raden said.

Cambodia exported a total of 3,590 tonnes of fishery products worth more than $8.33 million last year, down 74.53 per cent from 14,100 tonnes in 2019, the agriculture ministry reported.

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