(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Industry experts hailed Cambodia’s decision to become the first country to lift a ban on rice exports, saying the move would benefit local farmers and could help dampen global prices of the grain.
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday lifted the ban on rice exports, which he enacted in late March in a bid to halt the staple food’s spiraling price.
The move could lead to other rice producers like Vietnam and India also lifting their bans on rice exports, said Sushil Pandey, senior agricultural economist at the International Rice Research Institute in Manila.
“It is a careful balancing act,” Pandey said. “I wouldn’t say (the export bans) are over, because every country doesn’t want to export unless they can ensure a low price for domestic consumers.”
The Cambodian move, Pandey said, takes advantage of high prices just before the next rice harvest, and could have an effect on global prices.
“As export volume comes into the marketplace, surely that will have a dampening effect on prices,” he said.
“Ultimately, how it plays out will depend on what the harvest will be — what the season plays out in terms of drought and flood.”
Cambodian economist Sok Sina said the move would raise the local price of rice in impoverished Cambodia, but it was still the right thing to do.
“We should not keep the surplus of rice. Especially, when the (international) price is high — we will benefit from it,” he said.
Cambodia produced some 6.7 million tons of rice last year with a surplus of 2.3 million tons which can be exported. Hun Sen said the government would allow the export of about 1.6 million tons of rice.
Phou Puy, the president of the Cambodian National Rice Millers Association, said the lifting of the ban would benefit the country’s rice millers and farmers, who need both the local and international markets to do well.
“We support the government policy. It is the right decision,” said Phou Puy.
Rice prices have skyrocketed by around 76 percent between last December and April, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Rice Price Index.
Experts blame the trend on higher energy and fertilizer costs, greater global demand, droughts, the loss of rice farmland to bio fuel plantations, and price speculation.
To avoid food scarcities in their own countries, major rice exporters have imposed export bans, taxes or caps.
These measures have further restricted the availability of supplies on international markets, triggering yet more price rises and fears of rice shortages in developing countries.