According to the shanti-Agro-Ad that released its rice export data yesterday, Cambodia exported a total of 166,678 tonnes in the first quarter this year, up from 162,220 tonnes during the same period last year. Cambodian rice exports declined dramatically in March, causing the average export growth of the Kingdom’s dominant cash crop to increase by only 3 percent during the first quarter of this year. It nearly wiped out the double-digit growth seen in January and February which was 11 and 17 % respectively. Mr. Hun Lak, the Vice President of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), said yesterday that the March declines could be attributed to stricter sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards being imposed by China, which is Cambodia’s second largest market after the European Union. Only 26 Cambodian rice millers have been granted official approval to export to China with another 55 waiting to be cleared by China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, according to Lak. Despite the CRF lobbying Cambodian authorities to fast-track negotiations with China to allow increased market access, the body has yet to produce tangible results for its members.

Cambodian millers, besides hurdles with Chinese market, are also concerned about the EU’s call to eradicate the use of the fungicide Tricyclazole in rice production. The EU has given farmers until June to meet the revised threshold levels on white rice up to 0.01 milligrams of Tricyclazole residue per kilo and a deadline up to December for fragrant rice. In the first quarter of this year, Cambodia exported 84,059 Metric Tonnes (MT) of rice to the EU while exports to China accounted for nearly 40 percent of total exports at 67,482 MT. Yang Saing Komar, founder of agricultural organisation CEDAC, said that new market access was the main challenge for the sector after it had been devastated last year by a prolonged drought. “The weather is better than last year as there is a lot more rain which will provide higher yields of rice paddy to be milled,” he said. “Paddy production is not the problem to boost exports. The high cost of processing, increased regional competition and greater market access continue to be the industry’s main challenges,” Mr. Komar added.