The Cambodian peppercorn industry is preparing to begin formal direct exports to mainland China, where shipments of the piquant spice have traditionally been re-exported by a third country.

This comes after the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh announced on May 12 that the GACC a day earlier issued a list of 28 pepper farms and seven exporters that have been authorised to produce and handle peppercorn intended for export to the Chinese market. All seven exporters have packaging lines for the commodity.

The embassy noted that pepper is the first of the Kingdom’s spices to be granted formal approval for direct export to China. It added that the agriculture ministry and GACC on April 10-11 carried out inspections of several pepper plantations and packaging plants to ensure they met the required conditions.

On November 9, the “Protocol of Phytosanitary Requirements for Export of Peppercorns from Cambodia to China” had been penned by Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina and General Administration of Customs of China (GACC) head Yu Jianhua at the Peace Palace, at a ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Speaking to The Post on June 6, Cambodian Pepper and Spices Federation (CPSF) president Mak Ny enthused that market access to China will draw more interest from investors.

The Kingdom typically exports around 20,000 tonnes of peppercorn each year, with roughly four-fifths going to Vietnam and the remainder going to markets including Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Europe and the US, he noted.

He estimated the total area under pepper cultivation at about 6,000ha nationwide, with significant quantities grown in 18 provinces, notably Tbong Khmum, Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri.

The most highly-prized variety of these Cambodian-grown piquant berries is Kampot pepper, which is grown in the namesake province. It is also the only type protected under domestic geographical indication (GI) status. This GI is overseen by the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association (KPPA).

KPPA president Nguon Lay believes the Chinese market will offer a lifeline for Cambodian peppercorn growers, who are primarily dependent on bordering nations.

He shared that 80 tonnes of the GI peppercorn – which must be produced by KPPA members – are exported per annum, the bulk of which ends up in Europe and the US.

“Therefore, it is clear that the opening-up of the Chinese market will be crucial for the cultivation of peppercorn and to boost exports,” he told The Post on June 6.

Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) director Chan Sophal commented in November that formal direct exports to China would essentially put an end to Cambodia’s reliance on nearby nations like Vietnam to supply the Chinese market with its peppercorn, a relationship that, he stressed, has historically reduced profit margins for local traders.

“With this protocol signed, I hope that the formal export of pepper to China happens soon,” he said, adding that Beijing spent “at least two or three years” studying the details of the document.

In the next step, costs associated with direct shipping from Cambodia to China will need to be analysed, Sophal said, adding that moving the product via Vietnam had been “easy” due to its shared border with China, and the expenses “acceptable”.

According to the agriculture ministry, in the first three months of this year, 822.65 tonnes of peppercorn were exported to 12 markets: 765 tonnes to Vietnam, 26.14 tonnes to the US, 16.2 tonnes to South Korea, 9.54 tonnes to France and 2.36 tonnes to Belgium. Smaller quantities went to Japan, India, Germany and other Asia-Pacific markets.