Small-Scale Fish Trade between Cambodia and Thailand

Cambodia’s inland fisheries are the fourth most productive in the world given the combined capacities of the Tonle Sap (Great Lake) and the Mekong River, where more than one million people depend on the fisheries sector for employment, income and food security. Thailand is the largest importer of freshwater fish from Cambodia.

Commercial activities in the border areas developed during the 1980s and 1990s along with changes in border trade policies and structures, such as the establishment of state-owned enterprises, market liberalisation and formalisation of border trade.  Cambodian small-scale fish traders are important actors in the trade chain and the fish trade has created employment for these women who are now more able to financially support their households.  However, in the overall fish trade chain, small-scale traders are more vulnerable to the impacts of border regulations and price fluctuations in the market, and as women are segregated into this sector, there are gendered implications.  There are several reasons why women are concentrated in small-scale trading.  First, women dominate the domestic fish retail trade, and small-scale export is seen as the extension of such a role.  Second, women small scale traders normally have little capital.  They also have less connection with government officers or with fishers/fish lot owners, and they have less capital to extend credit to fishers to ensure their supplies of fish.  Third, small scale trade is considered unsuitable for men.

This sex-segregation in the fish trade means that women in the small-scale border trade have difficulty in securing fish.  Because they are unable to stock fish, and have little money to invest in ice, they also need to sell their fish as soon as possible.  This means they are unable to store their stock when fish price fluctuations between Cambodia and Thailand do not go in Cambodia’s favour, making their business riskier.  Additionally, because they have less connection with government officers and are unable to hire brokers because of their smaller quantities of fish, they are more vulnerable to fee collections by officer and others at the border.  While Cambodian border fees have decreased following demonstrations by small-scale traders and transporters in 2002, Thai fees and border restrictions have increased dramatically.  Apart from a 2-5 fold or more increase in Thai customs and additional payments including water and sanitation fees to certain markets, import registration was strictly enforced.  As only Thais can register as importers, small-scale women traders also found themselves paying fees to registered companies.  These difficulties are compounded by the lack of horizontal links between small traders – who are scattered geographically – making it difficult for them to unite and construct a sense of fellowship towards dealing with common problems.

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