Non-rice agricultural exports on the whole rose 4.34 per cent by tonnage in the first five months of this year, but were marked by declines across a number of categories and destination markets that were blamed on a lack of cold storage and supply chain infrastructure as well as international Covid-19 response measures affecting flows of goods.
The export of agricultural products other than rice from January to May amounted to 3,233,998.83 tonnes – up by 134,475.95 tonnes from a year earlier – valued at nearly $1.4 billion, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries reported.
The ministry noted that only cassava, tobacco, soybeans and “assorted vegetables” recorded positive growth, and that the “slight” year-on-year declines in other categories were more pronounced in exports to China.
The “assorted vegetables” category includes cucumber, leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower, and excludes popular Cambodian crops such as mung beans, soybeans, corn, peppercorn, chillies and cassava.
Agriculture minister Veng Sakhon pinned the weak spots in the export data to a lack of cold-storage facilities, Chinese Covid-19 import restrictions on its border with Vietnam, as well as Beijing’s tightening of sanitary and phytosanitary controls prompted by the reported detection of SARS-CoV-2 on banana packaging by customs agents.
Sakhon claimed that a shortage of cold storage facilities for transporting fresh agricultural products had driven rental prices more than threefold compared to pre-Covid rates.
The slowdown in Vietnamese exports to China has in turned triggered a general decline in Cambodian exports to Vietnam, forcing some companies to temporarily suspend exports, and others to abandon operations altogether, he said.
This chain reaction occurred in part because a fair share of Vietnam’s imports from Cambodia are repackaged or processed, and subsequently re-exported to China, especially agricultural products.
Hun Lak, a well-known local agricultural industry player whose ventures export mangoes and yellow bananas to the Chinese market, affirmed that commercial agricultural shipments to Thailand overall avoided slipping into negative territory due to smoother export processes versus those for China or Vietnam.
He stressed that China’s strict import controls have been the main underlying cause behind the Kingdom’s recent agricultural export woes, adding that mangoes, fresh bananas and cashew nuts last year registered their sharpest drop “in the last 10 years”.
“The only medium-to-long-term solution would be to improve transport infrastructure to keep costs low and remain competitive with other countries that export the same agricultural products.
“The installation of processing, packaging, cleaning and cold-storage facilities should be incentivised, to bring our agricultural products up to the desired sanitary standards and make them easy to export,” he said.
Based on exporters’ invoices, agricultural exports from January-May were worth $1,950,698,492.10, with milled rice accounting for $242,542,125, paddy $309,201,256, and other items $1,398,955,111.10, according to the agriculture ministry’s report.