The president of the Cambodian Rice Millers Association, Phou Phuy, said Monday that Cambodia would consider joining the Asean Rice Millers Federation, an organization designed to regulate prices and monitor product quality that was formed in Thailand earlier this month.
According to Mr Phuy, Cambodia may join the group in order to gain access to technical milling expertise, but he said his only concern was that Cambodian mills might not meet the standards set by the group, which includes countries with higher production capacities for export-quality rice.
Cambodian farmers “want the local millers to purchase their paddy rice regularly,” Mr Phuy said. “The outside buyers raise and drop prices whenever they want, making the market unstable.”
More than half of Cambodia’s 3.5 million-ton paddy rice surplus is still being exported to neighboring countries.
According to a recent report by the Commerce Ministry’s trade department, Cambodia has 3,468 functional milling machines, 2,051 of which are in Kampot province, with a maximum total capacity of around 14,000 tons per month.
But according to Thon Virak, director of state-owned rice exporter Green Trade, only five or six of those mills are capable of producing rice that meets export quality standards, a bottleneck between Cambodia’s rice farmers and the international market.
“We are very different than the Vietnamese,” said Mr Virak. “We have just started at this.”
Thailand and Vietnam are the top rice exporters in the world, together aiming to sell over 16 million tons in 2009 alone. According Green Trade’s figures, Cambodia formally exported just 10,600 tons of milled rice in the first half of this year.
Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, said Cambodian rice millers had been more focused on serving a domestic market and might benefit from any technical assistance on export quality milling the new Asean organization can offer. He also said it might not be in the best interest of other rice exporting countries to aid a competitor.
“Process and export involves competition. So there could be a conflict of interest,” said Mr Sophal. “Cambodian paddy rice has helped these countries meet international demand.”
Commerce Ministry Secretary of State Mao Thora said that the government was working on measures to slow or even stop the flow of Cambodian paddy into neighboring countries for milling.
“Our people need money for their paddy rice,” said Mr Thora, who said he was unaware of the Asean Rice Millers Federation. “If we had money to purchase paddy rice and the milling machines for processing, then we could curb paddy export.”
On Aug 10, Prime Minister Hun Sen unveiled an ambitious new government rice policy aimed at increasing formal exports of milled rice to one million tons by 2015.
Mr Hun Sen stressed the importance of creating added value locally by milling rice. Half of the proposed exports would be high quality rice bound for Europe and the US, and the other half would be exported to Africa and the Philippines.