Cashews Smuggled Out in Huge Numbers

More cashew nuts are being smuggled out of the country than are being sold legally, a Ministry of Commerce official said last week.

Ministry statistics show that 300 tons of cashew nuts were exported legally last year, about 10 percent of the country’s production capacity, said Thon Virak, deputy director of the Commerce Ministry’s foreign trade department.

“They are smuggling too much,” he said.

Cashew nuts are one of a number of agricultural products the government is promoting for export to take advantage of a recent agreement with China that allows Cambodian producers to export 297 agricultural products duty and quota free. Smuggling of agricultural goods along the border is common, officials say.

On March 8, Thailand eliminated tariffs on several Cambo­dian agricultural products, including cashew nuts, soybeans, maize, castor beans, potatoes, sweet corn and ground nuts, in an effort to increase Cambodian exports to Thailand. The deal was also meant to deter border smugglers so the countries could keep a better record of how many goods cross the porous border.

“The best thing we could do is to stop off-record trading and bring it on record,” Boonnam Kulrakampusiri, commercial minister at the Thai Embassy, said last week.

Cashew nut exports accounted for a mere $960,000 of the country’s $1.7 billion in exports. Most of those exports were garments.

About 30,000 hectares of land is used to produce cashew nuts, officials said. One ton of cashew nuts, which sells for about $3,200, is usually produced on one hectare of land, though in good years one hectare can yield 1.5 to 2 tons.

The duty-free, quota-free agreements with China and Thailand are essential for Cambodia be­cause “we cannot compete on cost with the US or European subsidized agricultural products,” Sok Siphana, secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, said.

Besides cashew nuts, the government wants to increase exports of rice, beans and anything else “we can produce in large quantities,” Sok Siphana said.

Though the country is not exporting as many cashew nuts as it could, officials estimate that legal exports rose 50 percent last year from 2002. The ministry does not have statistics on how many cashew nuts were exported in 2002.

“Last year was a kick start in exporting cashew nuts,” said Ney Sakal, chief of business service in the Commerce Ministry’s domestic trade department. “

Besides China, producers have sold cashew nuts to the US, Canada, Thailand and Singapore, Ney Sakal said.

But officials are concentrating on China.

“China is now ready to start producing technology, not agriculture anymore,” Ney Sakal said. “So they can start importing agriculture from our side. This is a big chance for our country.”

Cheang Am, governor of Kom­pong Cham province, which he said produces about 2,000 tons of cashew nuts per year, said it’s time to add value to the agricultural products being grown.

“We have many types of crops here, but the problem we face is lack of processing factories and [quality] packaging for export,” he said. “We don’t really want our people to sell raw materials to another country. We need processing factories.”

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