Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday announced a partial lifting of a two-month-old ban on rice exports, saying the government will nevertheless continue to limit the amount of rice sold abroad.
Feeling the pinch of a global rise in food prices, governments across Asia have imposed bans on rice exports to ensure the sufficiency of domestic supplies in recent months. Bangladesh on May 6 imposed a six-month ban on all rice exports.
Speaking to a graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen said the Commerce Ministry had been instructed to lift the March 26 ban as stocks were now substantive enough to allow some exports to resume.
“The temporary ban on rice exportation is lifted as of today, but the exports must pass through government administration, and the exports must not be more than 1.6 million tons of rice,” he said.
Only two exporters, the state-run Green Trade and the Cambodian National Rice Millers Association, have been licensed to export shipments of more than 100 tons, Hun Sen said, adding that the decision to lift the ban will be reviewed in December.
The end of the ban will help farmers whose revenues had dropped and whose stockpiles had grown because of the ban, he said.
“Farmers can export rice through the borders. They do not need permission from the ministry. Customs officers must not charge people money,” said Hun Sen, adding that exports must pass border inspection to allow officials to keep accurate export figures.
While Cambodian farmers produced 6.7 million tons of rice in 2007, domestic consumption is only 4 million tons, leaving a sizable surplus for export, he said.
“We don’t lack rice in any areas,” Hun Sen said.
Phou Puy, president of the Cambodian National Rice Millers Association, said Monday that prior to the export ban, 1 kg of uncooked rice had hovered around 4,000 riel but was now at 2,500 riel. The return of rice exports wouldn’t cause too sharp an increase in prices but should help farmers’ incomes, he said.
“The price will go up according to the market. It won’t be too high,” he said. “When the farmers produce surplus rice we must sell the rice.”
Officials at the Commerce and Agriculture ministries could not be reached for comment Monday; however, Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, said lifting the ban made sense, as farmers will likely have no place to store rice from the recent dry season harvest.
However, given the prevalence of informal, unrecorded exports, it can be difficult to say how much rice is currently in Cambodia and whether this will be sufficient for the traditionally lean months leading up to the November harvest, Chan Sophal said.
In his address Wednesday, Hun Sen said official rice exports in 2007 had totaled 500,000 tons. However, Chan Sophal said this was likely only an estimate.
“There’s a possibility that more has been exported because of the high prices,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)