European rice imports from least developed countries, mainly Cambodia, have soared 51 percent over the last year, a figure that Italy’s National Rice Agency has labeled “troubling new data” in its battle to have tariff-free exports scrapped.
According to data published by the European Commission, the European Union imported 254,436 tons of rice from Cambodia and Burma from September 2013 to July this year, compared to 168,832 tons during the same period the previous year. Cambodia accounted for almost 97 percent of those exports with 246,414 tons.
The data follows the blocking of major grain exchanges in Italy by farmers and members of agriculture unions last month in protest of the E.U.’s Everything But Arms agreement, which gives Cambodia duty-free access to European markets.
Roberto Carriere, director of the Italian Rice Millers Association, said despite garnering support from Italian politicians following July’s protest, the rising rice imports from Cambodia appear set to continue and place further strain on Italy’s rice industry as farmers there are undercut by cheaper imported rice.
“Italian politicians [in our Parliament, rice Regions and E.U. Parliament] are more sensitive to our problem and they push to solve it,” Mr. Carriere said via email.
“I do feel there are no chances to stop the increase of imports if the Commission does not adopt a safeguard clause fixing import duties,” he added.
Mr. Carriere said the National Rice Agency has drafted a dossier on Cambodia that it will submit to Italy’s Minister for Economic Development to organize an industry meeting to discuss protecting its rice sector.
David Van Vichet, executive director of milling and export company Boost Riche, said regardless of the dossier’s contents, it posed little threat to the country’s rice farmers, millers and exporters.
“We don’t know what the contents are of the documents…because it is their internal matters. We don’t pay a lot of attention nor will we re- act to their actions until the E.U. reacts to their complaints,” he said.
Last month, the E.U.’s spokesperson for agriculture and rural development affirmed the bloc’s commitment to the no-tariff trade agreement and said its removal is “simply not on the agenda.”
Kim Savuth, director of the Khmer Food company, which exports rice, said if Italy’s rice sector gets desperate, there are many hard-up farmers here who would happily help out.
“If Italy worries that its people leave their farmland, just come and see me to talk,” Mr. Savuth said.
“We can supply our farmers to work there. Just provide them visas and…our farmers can make a living without any need for subsidies or anything else.”
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