Sat, Jan 19, 2019 - Page 10 News List

Cambodia and Myanmar hit out at EU rice tariffs

AFP, PHNOM PENH

Cambodia and Myanmar have railed at the European Commission for resuming tariffs on millions of US dollars of rice, with one ministry describing the move as a “weapon” against already poor farmers.

The European Commission reimposed duties of up to 175 euros (US$200) per tonne of Indica rice from the two nations for three years following intensive lobbying by Italy, who said cheap imports were damaging its farmers.

While it is unconnected, the decision comes against the backdrop of threats to remove both Southeast Asian nations from the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme because of human rights abuses.

The EBA deal allows developing nations access to export a broad array of goods — including rice — to European markets without shouldering tariffs.

The European Commission found that Indica rice imports from Cambodia and Myanmar had increased by 89 percent in the past five seasons, but the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce said the complaint was based on inaccurate information and would hurt farmers in one of Southeast Asia’s poorest nations.

It is a “weapon to kill them [farmers] and their families who are in debt,” the ministry said late on Thursday.

Nearly half of Cambodia’s 625,000 tonnes of exported rice went to European markets last year, according to government data.

Ye Min Aung of the Burmese Rice Federation also criticized the move, saying its rice exports to the EU amounted to about US$100 million a year.

“We request the EU to keep helping us,” he said. “Our country has many difficulties to overcome.”

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this week threatened “to step on the throat” of his political rivals if the European Commission ended the EBA agreement, which would likely hit the kingdom’s cash-cow garment sector the hardest.

Removing EU trade preferences is a long and drawnout process that can take several months.

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