Rice lobby refutes rights abuse claim

The Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) on Monday voiced deep regret over claims linking milled-rice exports to Australia with human rights abuses.

A group of former activists of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) led by Khieu Dara and claiming to represent Cambodian-Australian citizens filed a petition to an Australian lawmaker with the accusation.

The CRF said it “strongly rejects the implications made in the group of former CNRP activists’ petition.

“We call on farmers not to be used as political pawns to spoil the rice market for other growers. It would well behove them to mull over helping find a market for Cambodian producers instead.”

Chan Sokheang, chairman and CEO of Signatures of Asia Co Ltd, a leading rice miller and exporter, said the allegations were groundless and politically-charged, and only served to harm the interests of the Kingdom’s farmers.

“They’ve done nothing to help Cambodians,” he said, referring to the activists.

The CRF noted that the Cambodian rice sector, which employs 3.2 million people (37 per cent of the Kingdom’s population), has been hit this year with a particularly ruthless trifecta of Covid-19, droughts, and most recently, floods.

“The CRF calls on farmers and the general public, both locals and foreigners, to not believe the fabrications and incitement spewed by these extremist groups.

“The CRF, as well as Cambodian farmers across the country, would like to thank the countries, especially Australia, that have, to this day, helped Cambodia’s rice sector grow,” it said.

Through their persistence, sweat and toil, Cambodian farmers have catapulted the reputation of local grains for quality to the international stage – winning US-based leading trade publication The Rice Trader’s annual World’s Best Rice award in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2018.

For many years, the Cambodian government has exempted taxes on farmland, agricultural inputs, as well as seeds, equipment and machinery used in farming, and has a generous agricultural electricity policy in place.

It has also provided assistance to rice millers over the years through special loan packages via its Agricultural and Rural Development Bank of Cambodia (ARDB), which has stabilised paddy prices and improved farmers’ livelihoods.

Cambodia exported more than 530,000 tonnes of milled rice to international markets in the first 10 months of this year, up 17.11 per cent year-on-year, worth $366.44 million, CRF statistics show.

China – including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan – remained the largest market for Cambodian milled rice, importing the lion’s share of 36 per cent.

Imports from 27 European countries accounted for 32 per cent, Six ASEAN members took in 13 per cent, while 10 African countries shipped in nine per cent.

Australia and New Zealand purchased a cumulative six per cent, and countries in North America and the Asian part of the Middle East imported two per cent.

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