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Ministry allows release of 35 frozen-meat containers from India

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Frozen meat. AFP via Getty Images

Ministry allows release of 35 frozen-meat containers from India

The Ministry of Economy and Finance has allowed the release of 35 containers loaded with frozen meats and other chilled goods shipped from India that have been stuck for weeks in Sihanoukville Autonomous Port customs control, after an analysis revealed no traces of the novel coronavirus.

The decision was made last week based on results of the analysis which were presented on May 12 at a meeting of the ad-hoc commission in charge of preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 – the pathogen that causes Covid-19.

The containers had reportedly been shipped to the Kingdom prior to an indefinite ban imposed on May 1 on the import of frozen meats and other frozen goods qualified as “high-risk” originating from India. The move was an apparent preventive measure to contain the spread of Covid-19 amid a devastating second coronavirus wave in the regional economic power.

Ministry of Commerce director-general for Consumer Protection, Competition and Fraud Prevention Phan Oun told The Post that the finance ministry claimed the contents of the 35 containers to be “safe to eat”, and allowed them to be sold on the market.

Finance minister Aun Pornmoniroth signed off on the authorisation, at the request of the commission, he said.

Oun noted that as of May 23, the commission had yet to compile data on the number of containers shipped from India that have been detained at customs due to the ban.

On May 1, commerce minister Pan Sorasak issued a letter concerning the ban, addressed to General Department of Customs and Excise director-general Kun Nhem and the heads of Customs branches and offices, citing concerns over the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus first identified in India last year.

The Kingdom will destroy frozen goods originating from India that are found to be infected with the virus and pursue other legal action, and the commerce ministry will diplomatically bring the issue to the Indian side, the letter said.

The ban will likely stymie the growth of buffalo meat imports from India in 2021, which began the year on strong footing, clocking in at $9.32 million in just the first two months.

This is over 52 per cent of the $17.7 million logged in for the whole year 2020, which was up by more than 170 per cent from $6.4 million in 2019. The buffalo meat imports accounted for 12.28 per cent of bilateral trade between Cambodia and India, according to the Indian embassy in Phnom Penh.

At a virtual meeting with India's meat producing giants held earlier this month, Indian ambassador to Cambodia Devyani Khobragade spoke at length about, inter alia, the gap between local production and domestic consumption, and export opportunities for Indian companies.

"Indian companies will be able to supply high-quality meat and meat products to Cambodia at lower prices and increase their market share and further contribute to strengthening trade and trade relations between the two countries," she said.

The trade value between Cambodia and India saw a dramatic 25.81 per cent reduction last year to $190.13 million from 2019's $256.26 million as the Kingdom embarked on a feasibility study for a free trade agreement (FTA), commerce ministry statistics reveal.

Cambodian exports to India were valued at $61.36 million last year, down 5.12 per cent year-on-year from $64.67 million, while imports fell by 32.97 per cent to $128.77 million from $191.59 million in 2019.

The Kingdom's trade deficit with India narrowed 47 per cent to $67.41 million from $126.92 million in 2019.

India invested $19.8 million in Cambodia in 2016, the latest figures from the embassy show, making the South Asian country one of the top 10 foreign investors in Cambodia.

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