Cambodian minister denies collusion in pig import industry

Officers inspect a truck loaded with pigs imported from Thailand through Oddar Meanchey province. - The Phnom Penh Post/ANN

PHNOM PENH, March 2 (Phnom Penh Post/ANN): Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon has denied recent accusations of widespread market fixing and price collusion within the Thai-Cambodian pig import industry.

Sakhon claims that everything the ministry has done has been with the aim of preventing anarchic import practices which could lead to a spread of diseases in Cambodia.

Recently, a group of Thai traders claiming to be a company that imports pigs to Cambodia gathered in protest while holding up a banner with a picture of Prime Minister Hun Sen and requesting his intervention. They said that in recent days they have not been able to import pigs into Cambodia from Thailand due to tightened restrictions.

Local media outlet also reported a case where officials from the agriculture ministry allegedly colluded together to engage in a corrupt scheme whereby the ministry used its authority to create 12 new regulations or conditions for pig importers to meet in order to operate while setting up businesses as pig brokers on both sides of the border and ensuring that theirs would be the only import businesses in a position to meet these new conditions.

The media outlet cited an unnamed source who claimed to have received information from someone who knows well about the pig import business. It said pork prices in the Cambodian market will continue to increase higher in the near future because currently, a group of a son-in-law of the agriculture minister has grasped the principles of local companies and those in Thailand.

Responding to this accusation, Sakhon told The Post on February 22 that the ministry’s regulations were put in place to prevent African swine fever because the ministry had detected many cases of the disease from pigs imported from Thailand.

He claimed that illegally imported pigs that were found to have African swine fever are a serious risk that has led the ministry to take measures to prevent an outbreak, which could devastate the local economy.

A previous outbreak of African swine fever in 2019 saw Cambodia facing pork shortages with its domestic supply when thousands of infected pigs across the country had to be put down.

According to Sakhon, the ministry has issued a series of measures to reduce imports and promote domestic products including pigs. He said it was this work that had caused outrage among importers due to lost profits.

“It’s typical that corrupt traders would collude and try to turn this case on its head and make it an accusation against me and the agriculture ministry like we’re the ones who are corrupt.

“My son-in-law has no role related to the export and import of pigs to Cambodia. He is a normal cabinet official [working] to coordinate on my mission programmes only. These traders are trying to make me angry by bringing up my son-in-law, thinking they can muddy his reputation.

“This isn’t the first time they’ve tried it. This is very unfair to me,” he said.

Sakhon said the 10 companies currently permitted by the Cambodian government to import pigs had sole rights to collect pigs for importation from farmers in Thailand. He said the pig imports industry had to be regulated due to possible problems with diseases carried by the animals and anyone who wanted to import pigs had to receive permission and buy the pigs from the 10 firms.

In all cases, pigs that are imported from Thailand that fail to go through the 10 companies will not be allowed into Cambodia, according to Sakhon.

During the protest, a Thai woman complained that her business is currently facing difficulties because the Cambodian government has banned the importation of pigs.

“I present this picture as a message to request and beg Prime Minister Hun Sen to help open up trade freely like previously.

“I have been running this trade business for about 20 years. However, what happened these past two months was that the Cambodian side banned my firm from importing pigs into Cambodia”.

Tan Phanara, animal health and production directorate director-general, told The Post that the 10 companies which were granted the right to import pigs had met the 12 required conditions and that the accusations being made were misrepresentations.

He said the other firms which were not allowed to import the pigs did not fulfil the legal obligations or do the paperwork or follow administrative procedures.

The Post could not find contact details of those who were requesting Hun Sen to intervene.

Cambodia Livestock Raisers Association president Srun Pov told The Post that this issue is very controversial. As the association president, he was not comfortable interpreting anything that went beyond the bounds of his role as an industry expert. However, he said he supported the actions of the agriculture ministry in this case.

“It is hard for me to say because this is a problem between the ministry and the importers so our association doesn’t have a full understanding of the problem. We would only request that all imports be checked properly,” he said.

Pov added that generally the import of pigs from neighbouring countries is a bit more expensive than domestic pigs, which cost between 13,500 and 14,500 riel (around $3.50) per kilogramme. The costs had increased a bit when the pigs were transported to slaughterhouses.

Pov said that In general, the retail prices at the market cost between 22,000 and 23,000 riel per kg, while good meat can cost a bit higher. A pig, he said, does not cost as much.

With pig importers, farmers, slaughterhouses and retailers having all pointed the finger at each other over the high costs of meat, Pov said the association is seeking to arrange a negotiation among all the parties to lower the prices to a level the market can realistically bear.

The ministry said domestic pigs can meet 85 per cent of Cambodia’s needs and up to 6,000 pigs were imported per day.

In February, Cambodian officials found 30 illegally imported pigs from Thailand with African swine fever and they were slaughtered and destroyed.

Phanara of the animal health and production directorate said: “When we catch illegally imported pigs from Thailand and we know from Thailand that the [African swine flu] has broken out among their pigs, we have to take this issue seriously,” he said. - The Phnom Penh Post/ANN

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