Singapore intends to invest in cold storage in Cambodia as the agricultural sector faces a dire need to safely and adequately store quality products to boost exports.

The intent was expressed by a delegation of Singapore ministry of foreign affairs led by foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan at a meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 16.

The delegation also sought to explore investment options available in the Cambodian transport sector, and to further expand bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon told The Post that Singapore’s interest in investing in cold product storage is something his ministry has always desired, to facilitate the process of freezing fish and meat, and hence reduce health risks.

He said private businesses must have their own cold storage and packaging facilities that are up to standards in order to export processed fish products, but added that high electricity prices were a major deterrent.

“A private company called Mekong Express previously invested in the construction of such a cold storage facility that would have been kept at a temperature of minus 30 degrees Celsius – out in the Chaom Chao area of Phnom Penh – where it also had a warehouse to store agricultural products to export to Japan in the future.

“But then that plan was derailed by irregular electricity, and [the facility] was later turned into another warehouse,” Sakhon said.

Cold storage will be vital in maintaining the safety and quality of agricultural products for export, especially fish and meat, he said, stressing that Cambodia has the capacity to supply meat to ship abroad.

By contrast, Hun Lak, CEO of Rich Farm Asia Ltd, a local agricultural investor that grows Keo Romiet mangoes in Kampong Speu province, underlined that fresh produce such as fresh fruits and meat was still in limited supply. On the other hand, he affirmed that high electricity rates erode the competitiveness of industries, compared to competitors in neighbouring countries.

This, he said, has resulted in scant investment in cold storage facilities and refrigerated shipping containers throughout the years.

“One of the challenges is the cost of electricity – the use of cold storage is very expensive.

“So to develop cold storage installations, it is necessary to reduce warehousing costs, making the cost of using cold storage facilities more reasonable – similar to those in neighbouring countries – and leading to a boost in export growth,” Lak said.

In November, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, in collaboration with a Singapore-based partner company Asia Infrastructure and with the participation of stakeholders, convened a meeting to discuss proposals for the development of a cold storage project in Cambodia to bolster agricultural exports, raise food hygiene standards, and improve the domestic market system.