July 26, 2023
PHNOM PENH – Negotiations with Beijing on the rules and procedures for the export of Cambodian edible bird’s nest (EBN) products to China are expected to conclude by year’s end, opening doors for the “no less than $100 million” worth of EBNs currently produced in the Kingdom per annum, a price hike for the commodity, and an influx of investment in the sector, according to Khmer Swiftlet Association (KSA) president Suy Kokthean on July 24.
Consumed for its perceived health and wellbeing benefits, local EBNs are generally made from the dried saliva of the Aerodramus genus of swiftlets, which are found throughout Southeast Asia. Traditionally, the processed swiftlet nests are double boiled with rock sugar to make a delicacy known as “bird’s nest soup”. China is the largest market for the commodity.
To recap, Cambodia Swiftlet Federation (“CSF”) president Nang Sothy told The Post that Cambodia was getting ready to send on April 28 documentation to Beijing pertaining to a list of six remaining questions of an export questionnaire for unprocessed and processed EBNs earlier submitted by the Kingdom.
He said Beijing had requested additional information for the six questions, but declined to specify what those questions were, only stating that they are “too complicated” to explain. Nonetheless, he affirmed that the process was on a “positive path”, and that the questions were among the “hundreds” on the survey.
No updates on the questionnaire or negotiations were immediately available as of press time.
The KSA reportedly has within its ranks 1,000 “swiftlet home owners”, which appears to allude to independent swiftlet-farming businesses based on the typical specialised cave-like structures intended to draw the birds and encourage them to nest there.
KSA’s Kokthean claimed that the lack of formal export channels to China costs the Cambodian EBN sector “millions of dollars” in lost revenue each year, resulting in “more than 90 per cent” of the locally-made product to be shipped to Vietnam, as well as Thailand in small quantities. Even then, “less than 10 per cent” is processed domestically, he added.
“There are no exact figures, but according to estimates, Cambodia produces EBN to the tune of no less than $100 million each year,” he said.
Kokthean speculated that negotiations with Beijing on the shipment of Cambodian EBN products to China might be completed by end-2023, citing a recent meeting he attended with at least one top Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official present.
Formal exports to China would persuade investors to bet on domestic EBN production, he said, stressing that prime cleaned EBNs can sell for between $3,000 and $4,000 per kilogramme on the Chinese market.
In contrast, the current average per-kg going-rate for local cleaned EBNs is between $800 and $1,000, down about 10 per cent year-on-year, whereas the range for uncleaned ones is $400-750, according to Kokthean.
“EBNs are highly sought after on the Chinese market. Official exports would buoy the price for Cambodian EBNs, which are superior quality given Cambodia’s comparatively low levels of smog and air pollution,” he said.
Although unable to provide concrete figures, Kokthean affirmed that the number of swiftlet homes in Cambodia has increased significantly in the last two years, adding that Indonesians and Malaysians are earning “billions of dollars a year” from EBNs.
On October 27, Chinese ambassador Wang Wentian confirmed that both countries are working to bring more Cambodian agricultural merchandise into China, such as EBNs, peppercorn, aquaculture products, “wildlife”, coconuts and “edible aquatic animals”.
The ambassador was speaking at a ceremony marking the Cambodian government’s authorisation of the direct export of fresh longan to China, more than a month after Beijing had given the final all-clear.