Rice federation warns EBA withdrawal could hurt millions

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The Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF) yesterday asked the European Union to save the livelihoods of half a million families by halting the process to withdraw the Everything-but-arms scheme.
In a statement issued yesterday, CRF said cancelling the trade scheme would be a “painful” addition to the duties that the bloc imposed on Cambodia rice earlier this year to protect European producers.

As a result of the new levies, during the first half of 2019, Cambodia’s milled rice exports to the EU fell by almost 50 percent compared to the first half of 2018, CRF pointed out.
“This year the EU imposed duties on Cambodian rice in order to protect domestic producers. This has been acutely felt by most of the 500,000 families in Cambodia who eke out a living farming jasmine and fragrant long-grain rice, even though these varieties are geographically specific and do not compete directly with products grown in the EU,” CRF said in the statement.

“As if this wasn’t painful enough, the EU is now considering the withdrawal of its Everything-but-arms programme,” it said.

The EBA allows goods from Cambodia and other developing nations to enter the EU free of duties and tariffs.

“EU legislators are threatening to end the arrangement to press for policy reforms in Cambodia. A political thrashing could lead to a virtual threshing of an industry and a way of life,” the rice body said.

Cambodian rice is produced in keeping with all international standards and CRF supports producers with programmes that are designed to encourage ethical, responsible and sustainable farming practices, the federation said.
“Without the EBA, these efforts will come to naught. The CRF appeals to the EU to save the livelihoods of half a million families and to save the work that we have done to earn your respect, that of consumers and that of those we serve.”

CRF secretary-general Lun Yeng yesterday discussed the main challenges to the sector if the Kingdom’s EBA status is removed. He said Cambodian firms will not be able to compete with foreign exporters unless the quality of local rice is improved.

“Without the EBA, we will have to pay tax. If this happens, we will have to strengthen the quality of our products and promote our brand more widely to be able to compete with rice suppliers like Thailand and Vietnam,” he said, pointing out that Vietnam will become an even more dangerous threat when it enters a free trade agreement with the European bloc.

“Losing our share of the EU market will be a great loss for the Cambodian rice sector,” Mr Yeng said.

In February, the European Union started a six-month process of intense monitoring and engagement that could lead to the temporary suspension of Cambodia’s preferential access to the bloc’s market under the EBA trade scheme.
With duty-free access under the EBA, EU is Cambodia’s biggest market for textile and garment products, bicycles and agricultural products.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has also joined calls to halt the EBA removal process. In a recent statement, it said the livelihood of 750,000 workers and the welfare of some 3 million Cambodians are at stake.

“GMAC again wishes to stress to EU legislators, officials and all interested stakeholders that a suspension of EBA benefits for our sector will result in significant job losses in the garment, footwear and travel goods industries and would not serve the EBA programme objectives of poverty eradication and sustainable development.

“It would prove to be a sad and regrettable outcome for GMAC and its workforce which have done so much to cooperate with the ILO and in effect to promote its role in monitoring workers’ rights in Cambodia, as well as in other nations,” GMAC said.

Cambodia exported around 93,000 tonnes of rice in the first half of 2019, down from more than 130,000 tonnes in the same period last year.

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