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Taskforce to weigh measures for rice sector’s future

An employee works at a rice shop in Phnom Penh.
An employee works at a rice shop in Phnom Penh. Eli Meixler

Taskforce to weigh measures for rice sector’s future

The Commerce Ministry has created a special taskforce to study challenges threatening the sustainability of the nation’s rice industry and will report its findings within two weeks, a ministry official said yesterday.

The announcement comes following a closed-door meeting yesterday between Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol, the Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF), and rice millers and exporters that are part of the CRISIS (Cambodian Rice Industry Survival Implementation Strategy) initiative.

During the meeting, the CRF called for urgent measures aimed at addressing two key challenges to the rice sector, namely for the government to crack down on illegal rice imports from neighbouring countries, and to provide $20 million to $30 million in soft loans to struggling millers.

The suggestions partly mirror those of a nine-point action plan forwarded to the ministry on March 7 by the CRISIS group, of which four were submitted for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s consideration.

In it, the group urged the government to impose a 100,000-tonne limit on rice imports from neighbouring countries and take punitive action on millers found guilty of mixing local and imported rice for export.

It also asks the government to facilitate access for millers to $250 million in soft loans, recommends subsidising electricity prices for millers, and calls for negotiating access to Laem Chabang port in Thailand to reduce logistics costs.

Penn Sovicheat, director of the Commerce Ministry’s domestic trade department, said the ministry’s new taskforce will examine the claims and recommendations presented by the CRF and CRISIS initiative.

“Now we will study and identify all the issues and solutions, and determine their compliance with [international commercial] law,” he said.

“We will examine these issues during the next week or two and submit our findings to the Commerce Minister and Deputy Prime Minister [Keat Chhon].”

CRF president Sok Puthyvuth said following yesterday’s meeting that the federation was focusing on pushing two urgent issues that could be addressed within two months.

“We’re facing a lot of challenging issues, but we need to define these issues according to short-, medium- and long-term solutions,” he said,

“We requested the government take action on illegally imported rice and provide a special loan package of $20 million to $30 million to help millers struggling to get finance, as these are short-term solutions that can be accomplished in two to three months.”

Kann Kunthy, CEO of Brico and a member of the CRISIS initiative, said despite his group’s prodding, the CRF has failed to address the biggest challenges to the rice industry and convey them to the government.

“We have emphasised the most urgent issues based on detailed studies that would serve to benefit the entire rice industry,” he said.

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