The independent Phnom Penh-based think tank Asian Vision Institute on Monday called on the five inland ASEAN countries to consider setting up a regional rice-producing association to maintain food security in the region amid Covid-19.

The appeal was made during a virtual panel discussion under the theme Cambodia Amidst Geopolitical Rivalry in the Mekong Region.

The five countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand (often called CLMVT) – are members of the political, economic and cultural Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) organisation.

Responding to a question by The Post, Cheunboran Chanborey, a programme director at AVI, said it is high time for the five ACMECS members to take action on the proposed association as some of the world’s largest milled-rice exporters.

He said: “Back into 2010, Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed ACMECS set up an association of rice-producing countries. Why don’t we try to make good on the idea during this critical Covid-19 juncture? We need a full supply of food and other consumables, and rice is key to food security.

“The Mekong countries – especially ACMECS – should have a second thought on the initiative, considering that Thailand is the second largest milled-rice exporting country, Vietnam takes the number-three spot, Myanmar ranks sixth and Cambodia is number eight, while Laos is also recognised as a milled-rice exporter.

“Why don’t the five countries come together and create a form of mechanism to promote their comparative advantage and at the same time, ensure food security in the region?”

Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) president Song Saran echoed Chanborey’s sentiment that the bloc should realise Hun Sen’s proposition.

He said: “Milled rice and paddy is vital for food-security policy in the country, region and the globe especially during Covid-19.

“It is also paramount that we mull over setting common policy for the sake of regional and international food security along the lines of what our prime minister brought up.

“The matter is not exclusive to the pandemic era, it is interlaced with other concerns stemming from climate change. We must join hands with them [other ACMECS members].

“But as we reside in divergent geographical areas and grow rice of varying types and qualities, we are bound to run into a number of obstacles during the process of integration and pooling our resources.”

ACMECS was established in April 2003 in a bid to bridge the economic gap among its five member states and to build sustainable prosperity in the sub-region.

A rice-exporting juggernaut, CLMVT produces 55 million tonnes of milled rice per annum, or 13 per cent of the world’s product and exports 13 million tonnes annually, or 45 per cent of the world’s exports, Hun Sen said in November 2010 at a summit held at the Peace Palace.

Cambodia exported 536,305 tonnes of milled rice to 60 countries in the first 10 months of this year, up more than 17.11 per cent from 457,940 tonnes in the same period last year, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries reported.

The outbound shipments were worth about $367 million, according to the CRF.