Hun Sen urges cooperation on rice exports

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday warned of climate change’s effects on agriculture and urged cooperation on rice exports at a gathering of regional leaders in Phnom Penh, during which he also met with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

“Climate change has strongly affected agricultural produce, especially rice, and this requires us to strengthen cooperation on production and rice exports,” Mr Hun Sen said in an address before the secretary-general of Asean and the prime ministers of Thailand, Burma, Vietnam and Laos. The Cambodian premier cited the effects of recent heavy rains and flooding in Cambodia and other countries in the region.

“I hope that agriculture production, especially rice production, will become one important symbol of our cooperation in the future,” Mr Hun Sen said, adding that increasing rice exports was one of his government’s priorities.

At a media briefing later in the day, the Cambodian premier said he and other regional leaders would ask their governments to examine building a “rice export community,” which he said had been discussed since 2005. Mr Hun Sen did not provide details other than to say that this organization’s aim would be “food security in the world, or at least the region,” not influence on rice prices.

At the end of the two-day meeting, which dealt with economic cooperation, Mr Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart met and an agreement was signed granting a two-week visa exemption to Thai and Cambodian passport holders.

The agreement will come into effect 30 days after the signing, according to Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong, who said it was aimed at increasing tourism and easing travel for investors.

Mr Hun Sen emphasized cooperation with Thailand in a media briefing before his meeting with Mr Abhisit, saying it was “time to strengthen the relationship and narrow the dispute.” He did not mention by name the ongoing border dispute near Preah Vihear temple, where Thai and Cambodian troops have clashed sporadically since 2008.

In response to another question at yesterday’s briefing, Mr Hun Sen said leaders at the two-day meeting had not discussed controversial dam projects on the Mekong River. The premier went on to say that water level changes depended on the weather and not on dams on the upper section of the river, contrary to environmentalists’ concerns that a Chinese dam has caused water levels to drop.

“When there is a lot of rain, there is flooding, and when there is no rain, there is drought,” Mr Hun Sen said. “So don’t be too environmentalist and don’t say that the development of hydropower dams leads to lack of water in the lower stream. If you think this way, it is a mistake.”

On Monday, Mr Hun Sen told Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung that he would speed up approval of a controversial dam in Stung Treng province.

Also at yesterday’s conference, Mr Hun Sen said that regional governments would seek foreign funding for 16 projects, four of which were chosen by Cambodia. He referred questions on details of the projects to the Commerce Ministry, where officials declined to comment.


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