After failing to see their demands met during a five-hour meeting with government officials yesterday, importers, NGOs and Phnom Penh pork vendors vowed to hold a protest before the end of the week over restrictions on domestic pig breeders directly supplying the capital’s slaughterhouses and markets.
The group of around 480 pork vendors and slaughterhouse owners have demanded that the Ministry of Agriculture lift the sales restrictions and break up the dominant market position of four official pig importing companies.
The vendors complain that the government measures effectively hand a monopoly to the four companies, which the pork vendors also accuse of colluding to drive up pork prices.
At the crowded meeting at the Agriculture Ministry’s Department of Animal Health and Production yesterday, which was attended by about 200 participants and lasted well into the evening, the opposing parties were unable to reach a resolution.
“Every one of our demands went unanswered,” said San Chanthet, a representative of the vendors and slaughterhouse owners, by telephone after the meeting. “All the vendors will gather again to protest and demand a solution for this problem.”
During the meeting, three representatives of the vendors requested that Kao Phal, director of the animal health and production department, reverse the government regulation—imposed in December—that requires traders to register the transportation of every single pig to Phnom Penh with the Ministry of Agriculture. Previously, traders were only required to register pig transport to the capital with provincial authorities.
The new regulation, vendors said in the meeting, obstructs and limits the supply of domestic pigs to the capital and undermines domestic pig production. The regulations also make vendors and slaughterhouses overly dependent on the four companies, which are the only firms allowed to officially import pigs from Thailand.
“The government should allow traders to obtain the pig transport certificate at the provincial level, in order to help the traders and pig farmers to sell their product in the capital more quickly,” said Po Heang, a slaughterhouse owner from Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.
Mr Chanthet, the vendor representative, also accused the pig importing companies Yuvak Peanic, Mekong Peanic, Nguon Socheth Development and the Tho Kimsreang firm of abusing their market position to artificially inflate pig prices.
Vendors have previously noted that pig prices have increased from 8,200 riel to 9,500 riel per kilogram in the past month and said they are worried import companies will increase their prices further ahead of the upcoming Chinese New Year Festival, which traditionally sees a huge surge in the sale of pork.
During yesterday’s meeting, Tho Kimsreang, director of Tho Kimsreang company, denied that his company had been inflating prices and said that his company was simply passing on the rising costs of buying pigs in Thailand.
“The price of pigs is already high in Thailand. The company spent a lot of money to obtain an import license and on transportation,” he said, adding that he bought his pigs at around 8,000 riel per kilogram on the Thai market and his profit margins were already narrow.
Mr Kimsreang went on to argue that pig importers were actually bringing down pork prices in the capital. “Without importing pigs from Thailand the price of local pigs would skyrocket,” he said, explaining that domestic supply could not fulfill demand.
During the meeting department director Mr Phal denied his department was supporting the market position of the pig importing companies by imposing the new transport restrictions.
“Some vendors accuse me of banning local animals in favor of creating a market for imported animals,” he said. Mr Phal claimed that the recent regulation was only created to ensure the transportation of farm animals was controlled and conducted to government standards.
“You are all my people,” he told the attending vendors, “You help to improve animal production. Without slaughterhouse and traders there would be no consumer and producer.”