Regional Leaders to Discuss Further Rice Exportation Cooperation

The leaders of Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam will meet Phnom Penh discuss regional rice exports during a meeting on Nov 17, Commerce Ministry officials said yesterday.

According to Sok Sopheak, director of international trade, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his regional counterparts will discuss export strategies at the 2010 Ayeyawady Chao Phraya Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy Summit. ACMECS is a regional initiative between the five countries in which leaders have in the past discussed sustainable growth.

Mr Sopheak said ACMECS countries met yesterday in Phnom Penh to hash out an agenda for the meeting and to draft a working paper on regional rice cooperation.

“The three main parts of our cooperation concern the skills, techniques and market for rice exports,” Mr Sopheak said.

Under the plan set out, Mr Sopheak said experts from Thailand and Vietnam, the world’s two largest rice exporters, will help Cambodian rice farmers identify rice varieties to increase export quality crop yields and train millers to use modern milling machines and market their produce internationally.

Compared to Thailand and Vietnam, which aim collectively to sell over 16 million tons in 2010 alone, Cambodia’s exportation figures remain modest.

According figures from the state-owned rice exporter Green Trade, Cambodia formally exported just 10,600 tons of rice in the first half of this year. Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Aug 10 that, with strategic adjustments, Cambodian rice exports could reach a million tons in five years.

Green Trade Director Thon Virak, who attended yesterday’s meeting, said that foreign expertise would be an integral part of growing Cambodia’s export capacity.

“We want to understand how to produce different varieties of rice that we can export,” said Mr Virak.

Chhong Sophal, Agriculture Development Cooperative Coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, said yesterday that much of the rice farming, processing and exporting process warranted reconsideration. In particular, Mr Sophal said that changing seed types would help Cambodian farmers grow exportable rice.

“The rice millers must help the farmers change from their old habits of growing rice,” said Mr Sophal, who suggested that the easiest reform to the system would be to cut out the middlemen who currently buy rice from farmers and sell it to millers.

By creating clear contracts with farmers, millers will be able to get quality paddy to make export quality rice, a demand that will increase with the number of millers who prefer the production of export quality rice, Mr Sophal said.

Under an initiative announced by Prime Minister Hun Sen as part of his five-year rice plan, the state will guarantee 50 percent of banks’ risk in financing rice production, including rice mills.

According to Mr Sophal, the financing scheme will likely increase demand for export quality paddy from Cambodia and, in turn, the amount of export quality rice produced. However, he said the government still needed to consider reforming the complicated documentation process for rice exports.


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