German development agency GIZ held a consultation workshop in Phnom Penh yesterday for its two-year Facilitating Trade in Agricultural Goods in Asean (FTAG) initiative, holding discussions with Ministry of Agriculture officials and local traders aimed at identifying the most suitable fruit and vegetable crops for cross-border trade between Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
The $1.17 million regional initiative, first launched in June and set to run until mid-2019, aims at giving farmers in the region more market access and streamlining the cross-border trade of selected agricultural products.
Claudius Bredehoeft, senior adviser to the project, said the FTAG initiative aims to work closely with government officials in the three Southeast Asian countries to harmonise the regulatory framework concerning food safety and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and procedures for selected fruit and vegetable products.
“We are working specifically on promoting trade of agricultural products between Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam,” he said. “To facilitate more trade, we are looking at the trade barriers and how to improve border inspections.”
Bredehoeft said GIZ has identified several agricultural products, including mangoes, bananas and longans, as potential crops to develop under the project. Now it is seeking input from local traders.
“We are asking fruit and vegetable traders where they believe there should be intervention or support for particular products to grow their potential for trade,” he said.
Ker Monthivuth, director of the Plant Protection and SPS Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said GIZ’s support should help governments find common ground and clear the hurdles imposed by protective trade barriers.
“This project will help us solve the challenges [of trade] and strengthen our capacity to reach [the full] export potential of our agricultural products” he said, “Under this project we will try to improve the control of trade facilitation by deploying the appropriate technical systems at our borders.”
Monthivuth explained that once the three countries have agreed on a list of fruits and vegetables, a formal procedural framework would be drawn up for the pilot products.
“Even though we already see that our exports are increasing year after year, challenges remain such as the limited technical knowledge of our farmers to be able to increase production capacity and generate more profits,” he said.
He said the Cambodian government is hoping Thailand and Vietnam will agree to the terms of the initiative as it could help reduce the amount of informal trade between the three countries. Fruits and vegetables traded through informal channels are not subject to food safety inspections, putting people’s health at risk, he added.