Cambodian peppercorn will soon be available in the Middle East, following the signing of the Cambodia-United Arab Emirates Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CAM-UAE CEPA), according to industry leaders.

Cambodian Pepper and Spices Federation (CPSF) president Mak Ny told The Post on June 27 that his organisation is searching for ideal Middle Eastern markets to target Cambodian peppercorn exports that would pay higher prices.

Currently, due to a lack of formal export channels, dealers purchase around four-fifths of the pepper produced in Cambodia for shipment to Vietnam, he disclosed, suggesting that, with a broader customer base, exporters would have more options and the prices of the home-grown piquant berries would rise.

“No CPSF member ships pepper to the Middle East, although we’re already working with buyers in that region since there’ll be some export barriers, including import duty payment procedures.

“However, we’re hoping that exports there will begin shortly so that we may better compete with foreign pepper [producers on a global scale],” he said, stating that most of the pepper sold in the Middle East is imported from either Vietnam, Indonesia or Brazil.

Ny urged growers to maintain the high quality and chemical safety of Cambodian pepper that he claimed distinguishes it from that produced in neighbouring countries.

Of note, the most highly-prized variety of this locally-grown spice is Kampot pepper, which is grown in the namesake province. It is also the only type protected under domestic geographical indication (GI) status. This GI is overseen by the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association (KPPA).

KPPA president Nguon Lay stressed that the Kampot pepper segment scarcely shares the same market and pricing concerns as the broader industry, and insisted that none of the typical 100 tonnes produced annually is ever left in stock.

“Before any is harvested, exporters almost always buy up practically all of the Kampot pepper,” he said.

Lay emphasised that Kampot pepper commands higher prices than other varieties, and that per-kilogramme rates for product purchased directly from growers have remained the same since 2015, at $15 for black, $25 for red and $28 for white.

For reference, a CEPA is a type of free trade agreement (FTA) that is generally designed for a more holistic coverage beyond just commodities, and may include provisions for services, investments, dispute resolution, intellectual property rights, public procurement, or other forms of specialised economic cooperation.

Once ratified and in force, the CAM-UAE CEPA is expected to boost economic growth as well as sustainable and inclusive development in both countries, while also enhancing the market potential in the Middle East and surrounding region for Cambodian goods.

In a previous interview, Ny mentioned that, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the nearly 7,000ha nationwide dedicated to the production of non-GI pepper could produce 17,000-20,000 tonnes per annum, but noted that this cultivation area has decreased by about 10-20 per cent since then.

“Pepper cultivation is almost all aimed at meeting export demand. Domestic consumption accounts for just five to seven per cent of our annual production,” he said.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries reported that peppercorn exports reached 822.65 tonnes in the first quarter of 2023, which went to 12 markets.

Vietnam was by far the biggest buyer at 765 tonnes, followed by the US (26.14 tonnes), South Korea (16.2 tonnes), France (9.54 tonnes), Belgium (2.36 tonnes), Japan (1.38 tonnes), India (0.96 tonnes), Germany (0.90 tonnes), Singapore (0.10 tonnes), Taiwan (0.04 tonnes), Australia (0.03 tonnes) and Malaysia (0.002 tonnes).