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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Cambodia fails to sell garments to Japan

THE Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) announced on Wednesday it has failed to boost local industry by tapping the Japanese clothing market.

Cheath Khemara, GMAC's labour issue officer, told the Post Wednesday that the Kingdom had lost out because producers were unable to compete with neighbouring countries on quality, transportation and pricing.

"We really regret we failed to grab such a big market, but we will keep trying in the hope that we can enter Japan in future," he said.

He said exporting to Japan would add at least US$100 million annually in garment revenues.

The president of GMAC, Van Sou Ieng, led a delegation to Japan in November in a bid to persuade buyers to consider Cambodian garments.

The delegation included manufacturers, government officials and union representatives, and concluded with Japan agreeing to a trial purchase of 10,000 suits and 100,000 pairs of shoes. That deal has not happened.

One of the delegates on that trip, Chea Vuthy from the Council for the Development of Cambodia, told the Post he was not aware of the reasons for failure.

He added that responsibility lay with the Ministry of Commerce.

However, Mean Sophea, who is director of the department of trade preferences at the ministry, was unable to comment on Wednesday as he was in a meeting.

Ath Thun, the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Unions, an umbrella organisation that has more than 50 garment unions as members, said the failure was a great loss.

Japan is a large market, he said, and its consumers can afford to pay higher prices than people in other markets.

"To my mind loss of confidence by workers in their job security and their low salaries are the main factors which contributed to low quality," Ath Thun said. "But I don't think these are the main reasons for the failure to enter Japan."

Ath Thun said that, more importantly, the government needs to make the bureaucratic process more transparent and improve infrastructure used by the industry.

"Then I am sure we can make a new deal which will allow us to export garment products to Japan," he said.

Cambodia has long wanted to export garments to Japan, the world's third-largest market for such exports after the US and the European Union.

The industry earns revenues of $3 billion annually.
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leading maker of fish sauce in Cambodia aims for US

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN, A worker manages the production line at the Kampot Fish Sauce factory in Kampot. The company is hoping to make its first overseas sales to the United States.


Kampot Fish Sauce looks to branch out and tap into overseas market after complaining of glut of local manufacturers producing substandard goods.

THE Kingdom's most popular fish sauce brand has told the Post it is looking to target the US market in a bid to boost sales. Toung Sopheap, the owner of Ngov Heng Kampot Fish Sauce processing factory, which makes Kampot Fish Sauce, said her husband is currently in the United States seeking marketing and distribution partners.

"We need to grow our sales and look at new markets overseas because we have run into some problems with the local market - there are many illegal fish sauce companies making a cheap, low-quality product," she said.

Toung Sopheap said her company is inspected every six months by the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, and supplies 60,000 litres of fish sauce, soybean sauce and chilli sauce a month to wholesalers across the country.

"Despite the economic crisis damaging other sectors, we haven't been affected. Production and demand haven't dropped," she said. "I certainly hope we'll export to the US this year, because our sauce is very popular among Cambodian-American visitors to Cambodia."

Meng Saktheara, the director general in charge of the ministry's small and medium enterprise department, said 800 fish and soy sauce manufacturers were operating in Cambodia.

Some - such as Toung Sopheap's factory - are recognised by the ministry as producing a quality product.

The director general of the Institute of Cambodian Standards, Ping Sivlay, said just 30 makers of fish sauce currently hold the Standard Certificate and follow ministry guidelines.

Higher quality required
He said most producers wanting to export would have to adopt better standards in order to meet stringent international food-quality guidelines.

"If the industry wants to improve its quality and meet the standards required to compete with imported and local producers, they should first apply for Cambodia's Standard Certificate," he said.

"That way we can recommend their product and ensure they manufacture according to a proper standard."

The Ngov Heng Kampot Fish Sauce processing factory was established in Kampot in 1995 with a capital investment of US$100,000.

It employs 32 staff, and has 40 storage tanks that refine 2,000 litres of sauce a day.

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How rice wine ferments the Cambodian spirit

Rice wine is a popular tipple all over East and Southeast Asia, and, as one soon discovers, it comes in a wide variety of styles and possesses an assortment of medicinal qualities.

Dos Lun fills an order for srah sohl in Takeo (Left) Dos Lun stokes the fire to heat the rice wine.

AN old English proverb says, "Good wine needs no bush", meaning that something of good quality does not need to be advertised. This is especially true of Cambodia's traditional alcoholic beverage srah sohl, or rice wine.

As rice is the primary staple of most Cambodian diets, it comes as no surprise that the cheapest and most popular alcoholic beverage for most Cambodians is a potent brew made from the plentiful grain.

Similar to sake from Japan or cheongju from Korea, rice wine in Cambodia is produced by fermenting grains of rice until the starches in the rice convert into sugars, resulting in a mildly alcoholic liquid. Unlike wine made from grapes, the fermentation period can take as little as 24 hours.

"Once you have the equipment, the process is quite simply really," said Dos Lun of Tang Russey village in Takeo province.

Every second day Dos Lun boils 25 kilos of rice, lays it to dry in the sun, and then transfers it to plastic buckets, where it is mixed with a natural fermenting agent called dom bai in Khmer. The mixture is then left to bubble and ferment overnight. Once the rice has fermented, it is dumped into a large metal vat along with pure rainwater and covered with a purpose-built lid, sealed with a rice husk paste.

Leftover rice husks and scrap wood are used to start a small fire under the vat, heating the rice mixture so that the watery, alcoholic mixture evaporates, travelling up two metal pipes protruding from the lid and down through a concrete container full of water. The water in the container cools the liquid in the pipes, and a small spigot at the bottom of the container releases the clear, pure, mildly grainy-flavoured rice wine.

Three stages
"There are three stages of wine," said Dos Lun. "The first batch is extremely strong, and is not suitable for drinking. The second stage is the best, at about 30-percent alcohol content, and the third stage is very weak. I often mix the first and third batches to create an evenly balanced blend."


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If you don't drink, how will the rice wine merchant make his living?

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Dos Lun sells his natural rice wine from his stilted wooden house in the midst of rice fields and cow paddocks for 2,000 riels a litre, and can sell as many as 20 litres a day. "People like to buy rice wine from me because they know it's natural and not bad for you," he said. "You have to be careful because some producers of rice wine that sell in bulk from stores or roadside stalls put chemicals and pesticides in the wine to make it taste stronger, but really it just makes you sick."

Takeo native Khem Sokkhieng said, "I like to drink rice wine during special festivals or holidays and sometimes when I'm relaxing with friends or family, but some people drink it every day. Farmers who work in the rice fields will often drink one glass of srah sohl in the morning before they go to the fields in order to warm their body, and then again at night to relax."

Srah sohl can also be used as a base for traditional Khmer medicinal remedies, which many claim can cure everything from muscle aches, fatigue and stomach disorders to menstrual cramps and labour pains.

Medicinal
Medicinal rice wine in Cambodia goes by the name srah tinum, and can be produced by infusing pure rice wine with items such as herbs, roots, tree bark, and even insects.

Chen Veasna, owner of Restaurant No 66, a family-run restaurant on Street 360, has been selling srah tinum at the two-level restaurant for fifteen years, and believes wholeheartedly in its healing powers.

"All of the wine we sell here is good for aches and pains in the body," she said. "Some of the varieties are particularly good for women, although anybody can drink any of the varieties. And the greatest advantage of our wine is that it doesn't burn your stomach when you drink it because it contains no harsh mixtures or harmful ingredients."

Varieties of medicinal rice wine at the restaurant include srah gondia, a dark, rum-coloured brew that is made by infusing red termites in rice wine and then straining the bodies out. The resulting drink tastes a bit sweet and earthy, with flavours of almonds and nutmeg. It is said to help with blood circulation and menstrual cramps.

Srah bondul pich is made from the woody stems of a small plant native to Cambodia and possesses a vibrant yellow colour, with an extremely strong, bitter taste that coats the tongue long after it is swallowed. It is said to be most beneficial for elderly people and cure arthritis, rheumatism and body pains.

Srah tinum chen sei is the most common type of medicinal rice wine in Cambodia and is often taken to alleviate stomach disorders and fatigue. The best tasting wine by far at Restaurant No 66 is srah dom narp k'mull, a strongly alcoholic, sweet and slightly spicy blend, made from black sticky rice. The busy restaurant also sells regular srah sohl.

Hangover-free
All rice wine at Restaurant No 66 is sold by the litre and varies in price depending on the variety. "I can't even count the number of people that come here every day to purchase rice wine," said Chen Veasna. "People love it because it is healthy and it won't give you a headache or hangover the next morning, provided, of course, you don't go overboard on it."

Whether imbibed as a social lubricant, for pleasure, or for curative purposes, srah sohl is a long-established element of traditional Khmer culture, and to quote a common Khmer colloquialism, "If you don't drink, how will the rice wine merchant make his living?"
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