Cambodia exported 25,691 tonnes of milled rice to ASEAN countries in the first five months of this year, up by 17.59 per cent year-on-year, according to the agriculture ministry, as the bloc emerges as a new vibrant market for the Kingdom’s staple grain.

There were four ASEAN buyers during the period, with Malaysia coming out on top at 15,120 tonnes or a 58.9 per cent share, followed by Brunei (8,022 tonnes), Singapore (1,549 tonnes) and Vietnam (1,000 tonnes), the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries reported.

Signatures of Asia Co Ltd chairman and CEO Chan Sokheang told The Post on June 12 that ASEAN was the “third priority market” for Cambodian milled rice after China and the EU.

Much like East Timor, “four or five” ASEAN countries are capable of meeting the domestic demand for milled rice with enough spare capacity to cater to export markets, Sokheang said without mentioning specific countries, and added that Cambodia targets the other nations as potential buyers of the commodity.

While not as populous as China or Europe, ASEAN communities tend to eat rice on a daily basis, which translates to a massive scale of demand for consumption, he said, adding that within the bloc, the varieties and flavours that the people enjoy are similar, although distinct from those popular in Japan and South Korea.

Sokheang shared that the severity in the empty-container shortage had eased from its peak during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020-2021, which he suggested would be a boon for milled-rice exports.

Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) Song Saran said that the bloc accounted for 15 per cent of Cambodia’s aromatic rice exports for January-May, and that the Kingdom aims to champion high quality and safe rice as an option for the ASEAN Community.

While Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Singapore were the top ASEAN buyers during the period, Cambodia has been looking for market opportunities in the Philippines, he said.

CRF secretary-general Lun Yeng said that in 2017-2021, Malaysia was the largest ASEAN buyer of Cambodian milled rice and the third largest of Cambodia’s 90 export destinations overall, at 204,565 tonnes or nearly 6.50 per cent of the global total of 3,148,697 tonnes.

Last year alone, the Kingdom exported 46,181 tonnes of fragrant rice to Malaysia – valued at approximately $32.07 million – which ranked third after China and France, he said.

“In Malaysia, most elderly people have heard of Cambodia’s fragrant rice since before the war and the kind of rice that was sold there was known as Somaly. Currently, the milled rice packaged with the name Somaly is still popular there,” Yeng said.

He described Malaysia as “the most potential and suitable market for Cambodia’s milled rice” due to its proximity and ease of transportation.

According to the ministry, in January-May, Cambodia exported a total of 283,675 tonnes of milled rice, of which 149,447 tonnes went to China, 81,931 tonnes to the EU, 25,691 tonnes to ASEAN, and 26,606 tonnes to the remaining 22 markets.