The Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) has set full-year milled-rice export targets for the Kingdom at 750,000 tonnes in 2023 and one million tonnes in 2025, which would constitute 17.7 per cent and 57.0 per cent increases from the 637,004 tonnes – valued at $414.29 million – recorded in 2022.

This was revealed by CRF president Chan Sokheang during a February 7 courtesy call on Ministry of Commerce Pan Sorasak to report on the progress made in the CRF’s rice-related endeavours, the commerce ministry noted in a statement.

The government had pledged back in August 2010 to export one million tonnes of milled rice by 2015. However, the Kingdom has fallen short each year, at 538,396 tonnes in 2015, 542,144 tonnes in 2016, 635,679 tonnes in 2017, 626,225 tonnes in 2018, 620,106 tonnes in 2019, an all-time record 690,829 tonnes in 2020, and 617,069 tonnes in 2021. Could 2025 really be the year the one-million-tonne mark is breached?

The 2023 and 2025 targets are included in a CRF action plan that centres on boosting rice production and exports, Sokheang told Sorasak, adding that the federation intends to work with the ministry to ensure that annual milled-rice sales to China top 400,000 tonnes each year and that the local grains make it in greater volumes to a broader range of markets.

The CRF plans to step up cooperation with Green Trade Co – a state-owned enterprise under the ministry – to improve market access for milled rice to the Philippines and elsewhere, and establish a stronger presence in promising markets, through trade fairs and trips, he disclosed.

The federation is scheduled to attend a number of trade fairs this year, including one in Dubai, United Arab Emirates this month, another in Thailand in May, and a third in Germany in October, Sokheang said, adding that trade trips to Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong, the US, Canada and Australia are also in the pipeline.

The Kingdom’s apex rice industry body also seeks to promote the “Malys Angkor” certification mark as well as the Sen Kra’op (SKO) fragrant rice and Damnoeb Sbai Mongkul (DSMK) Cambodian premium glutinous rice collective-brands, he affirmed.

Sokheang also mentioned a 2023-2027 strategic plan focused on further strengthening administrative capacity in the CRF, according to the statement.

In turn, it said, the minister asked the CRF to bolster milled-rice exports to China, noting that the ministry and Chinese state-owned China Oil and Foodstuffs Corp (COFCO) have entered into a sixth memorandum of understanding (MoU) committing the latter to buy a specific amount of the Cambodian grain, set at 400,000 tonnes this time.

The ministry has signed similar MoUs for the Timorese, Philippine and Bangladesh markets, Sorasak said, highlighting the rice sector as a top government priority and the subject of numerous discussions, of bilateral and multilateral nature, with leaders of other countries.

To support the local milled-rice export community as well as improve market access for the cereal grain and processed products thereof, the ministry negotiated their inclusion in the list of items for preferential treatment under free trade agreements (FTA) such as the bilateral deals with China and South Korea along with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), he recalled.

The minister stated that milled rice would also feature as a priority commodity for the under-negotiation Cambodia-United Arab Emirates Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CAM-UAE CEPA) – which is expected to be signed in the Kingdom by the end of the year.

Of note, a CEPA is a type of FTA that is generally designed for a more holistic coverage beyond just commodities, and can contain provisions for services, investments, dispute resolution, intellectual property rights, government procurement, and additional forms of specialised economic cooperation.

Sorasak emphasised that the CAM-UAE CEPA is expected to unlock Cambodian milled rice’s market potential in the broader Middle East and increase exports to the region beyond the historically meagre levels, according to the statement.

“Andy” Lay Chhun Hour, group president and CEO of City Rice Import Export Co Ltd, a major rice miller based in Battambang province, is confident that overseas sales of Cambodian milled rice will pick up, on the back of concerted efforts from public and private stakeholders to research and identify potential markets, as well as the 2022 “World’s Best Rice” award.

For context, Cambodia’s Phka Rumduol jasmine variety was crowned the “World’s Best Rice” for the fifth time at the TRT (The Rice Trader) World Rice Conference in Phuket, Thailand on November 17.

Phka Rumduol is a type of long-grain jasmine rice that has emerged as a top choice of international buyers, and is one of the varieties exported under the “Angkor Malys” certification mark – which the CRF has vowed to promote.

The jasmine variety had previously won the award four times, for three consecutive years from 2012-2014, and then again in 2018. It took second place three years in a row from 2015-2017.

Chhun Hour told The Post on February 8 that local rice export players have recently met with potential buyers from the Philippines, Maldives and US. “The volume of milled rice exports will definitely increase, but it’ll take some more time,” he said, with a bit of hesitation.

“Currently, Cambodian SKO milled rice is in high demand internationally, but cultivation of this variety doesn’t seem to be increasing.”

Chhun Hour shared that City Rice Import Export exported more than 100,000 tonnes in each of 2021 and 2022.

The CRF reported that the 2022 milled rice exports were shipped to 59 jurisdictions by 61 exporters, with the mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau markets collectively accounting for the most at 288,830 tonnes, followed by the 25 destinations in the EU (221,504 tonnes), four in ASEAN (64,733 tonnes) and 27 elsewhere (61,937 tonnes).

Broken down by variety, premium aromatic rice represented the lion’s share at 277,739 tonnes, followed by SKO fragrant (179,070 tonnes), white (153,428 tonnes), parboiled (15,781 tonnes), organic (10,963 tonnes) and glutinous (23 tonnes), it said.

It added that nearly 3.478 million tonnes of paddy rice worth $841.09 million were exported last year, exclusively to Vietnam.