By Sun Narin
Following North Korea’s wish for the rice import from Cambodia, the country’s rice experts say that Cambodia’s traders will need good prices from North Korea if they want to import rice from Cambodia.
Mr Yong Saing Koma, the president of Cambodian Center for Student and Development in Agriculture Center (CEDAC) said: “ It is dependent on the market price. If the price is good, Cambodian traders will export rice to North Korea rather than neighboring countries,” adding that Cambodia has more rice surplus to export to other countries not only North Korea, but Cambodia does not know yet how much rice that North Korea wants and how much price they will give.
Recently, the new Thailand’s government Pheu Thai announced policy to allow farmers to mortgage their entire harvest at 15,000 baht a tonne for white rice and 20,000 baht for fragrant or Hom Mali rice, which will concern the rice exports. And, Thai rice exporters are looking for the alternative supplies from Vietnam and Cambodia in case the new government makes the price too dear for export, which could halve volume to only 5 million tones next year for a revenue loss of 60 –70 billion baht, according to the local press in Thailand.
“If Thai exporters cannot buy such expensive rice for export, they may opt for much cheaper rice from Vietnam, Cambodia or Burma, as they must maintain their market bases and customers. With the Asean free-trade agreement, such an alternative would be possible,” said Vice-president Charoen Laothamatas of Thai Rice Exports Association (TREA). Some rice exporters and millers have already established trading firms or representative offices in Cambodia and Vietnam to purchase rice for export to foreign customers.
However, critics say that Cambodia’s government will try to find ways to send the rice to North Korea to fulfill its needs since North Korea is a friend of Cambodia and China, which is against the United States. Cambodia has a long history of strong political relationships with North Korea, dating to former king Norodom Sihanouk’s relationship with former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.
Mr Son Chhay, the Kingdom’s opposition Sam Rainsy Party’s lawmaker, raised the two reasons that North Korea started forging relations with Cambodia: first North Korea sees the noticeable relations between Cambodia and South Korea, which reflects the concerns of its loneliness and second, the country has been facing the extreme shortage of rice and they want low-price rice from Cambodia with the exchange of something else.
“North Korea has to buy rice following the market price rice and Cambodia, in trading, will need only good price for that.” He added that: “North Korea has nothing to exchange with Cambodia. Cambodia should suppress it [North Korea] not to mistreat the people like in Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979) in Cambodia.”
North Korea is one of the world’s poorest countries and it rarely produces enough food to feed its 24 million people, often as a result of bad weather affecting harvests. International sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme combined with neighbouring South Korea’s refusal to provide help have led to a substantial decline in food aid from its traditional donors. North Korea is keen to import rice as soon as possible and in return North Korea will help Cambodia develop its mining sector and invest in hydropower dams.
However, Yong Saing Koma said that it is not related to policy because the rice export is the private work and the government’s duty is to issue the policy and facilitate the trading.
Cambodia is the world’s 15th biggest producer of rice and the government has set a target of exporting 1 million tonnes of the grain in 2015. Cambodia is expected to ship about 100, 000 tonnes of milled rice this year, up from 50, 000 tonnes in 2010, according to the Economic Institute of Cambodia (EIC).
Cambodia aims to export agricultural products such as rice, corn and beans in return, he said. Earlier this month, the European Commission agreed to provide 10 million euros (US$14.54 million) in emergency good aid to North Korea after find hundreds of thousands at risk of starvation.