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Cambodia Resumes Vietnamese Fish Imports For Four Species

Cambodians look at a pile of fish in Kampong Ampil village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, December 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Cambodians look at a pile of fish in Kampong Ampil village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, December 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodia has resumed the import of four species of fish from Vietnam after they objected to a ban placed on all farmed fish imports across the border last month.

The Agriculture Ministry decided to allow the import of four farmed fish species: pangasius djambal, pangasius larnaudii, catfish, and giant snakehead fish. The move comes after Vietnam objected to Cambodia’s flat ban on all farmed fish into the country, as it attempts to push its fledgling aquaculture sector.

In January, the Vietnamese Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh wrote a letter to Cambodian Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak asking him to reconsider lifting the ban on farmed fish imports from Vietnam.

“The Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, in collaboration with relevant ministries, will continue to address the challenging issues of aquaculture to develop the aquaculture sector and strengthen the competitiveness of aquaculture operators in line with the principles of free trade,” read the Agriculture Ministry statement.

Last year, the Cambodian government aggressively pushed for local fish farms as a potential job creator during the COVID-19 pandemic. An aquaculture association was formed late last year and the government planned to give farmers who switched to aquaculture free fish feed.

Cambodian Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon told VOA Khmer on Tuesday that local fish products were facing challenges and that people farming fish were still unable to produce enough fish products.

Sok Raden, president of the Cambodian Aquaculturist Association, wasn’t opposed to the ministry’s reversal. Cambodia had more than 20,000 tons of the four species that will be imported, he said, but this stock had to be sold as soon as possible as temperatures rise and fish farmers require income to repay their debts.

“This is the ministry’s measure, so I don’t have to deny or give any comments on this. But we are aware that we will face challenges because we, firstly, owe the banks money. Secondly, we need to sell the fish to get cash to pay for the next crop of fish,” he said.

The fishery expert wanted the government to limit the number of imports so that the local market was not flooded with imported fish.

“I, on behalf of the Aquaculturist Association, will request the Fisheries Administration to limit [the amount] or to come up with a procedure to avoid a surplus of fish we already produce,” he said.

“When they import more, vendors or businesspersons will not buy domestic products, causing a risk to our fish stock that are facing water shortages,” he said.

Pen Sovicheat, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, told VOA Khmer that the decision to suspend and allow the import of fish was a technical task managed by the Ministry of Agriculture.

He said that the Ministry of Commerce supports free trade and multilateralism in line with the Asean framework and the principles of free trade of other international trade organizations.

“In general, the Ministry of Commerce does not have a specific opinion on the goods mentioned above. But still, as a technical framework for international trade, we support a trade-related position in the ASEAN community, a position that supports trade in the international community,” he said.

In 2020, Cambodia’s aquaculture sector produced 400,000 tons of fish product, an increase of 30 percent over 2019, according to Agriculture Ministry statistics.