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Cambodia limits sand exploitation in Mekong River

Excavators move sand from Cambodia’s barges to Vietnam’s ones.

Posted on November 14, 2022

Ung Dipola, director-general of the General Department of Mineral Resources under the Cambodian Ministry of Mines and Energy, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that sand exploitation is one of Cambodia’s strengths, allowing it to provide sand for Vietnam to conduct traffic infrastructure and construction projects.

However, Cambodia manages sand resources tightly to prevent a negative impact on the environment and the lives of local residents while ensuring budget revenues.

“We license the exploitation of sand in the Mekong River and have yet to issue licenses for sand mining in the Bassac River,” Ung Dipola said.

The two rivers are, respectively, called the Tien and Hau in Vietnam.

On just a 300-meter section of the Tien River in Vinh Xuong Commune, Tan Chau Town, An Giang Province, bordering Cambodia, nearly one hundred barges and excavators owned by companies from across Vietnam spend their days hauling and moving sand.

This busy sand trade is a lifeline for many households in Vinh Xuong Commune who have begun renting accommodation and selling refreshments to the employees working for these sand dredging operations.
Busy sand trade in quiet town

“To date, dozens of households [in Vinh Xuong] have leased their homes for VND7-12 million [$281-482] per month. Lessees, who are mainly from Ho Chi Minh City and northern provinces, lease these houses while they are in the area to buy sand from Cambodia.

“There are also three companies that have leased homes in the area to use as their representative offices,” an official of Vinh Xuong Commune said.

Tr., one of the new lessees in the area, shared that he and his friends recently launched a company which buys sand from Cambodia.
He currently rents a local house for VND9 million ($362) per month which doubles as his business office.

According to T., an official from Vinh Xuong Commune, local residents are also getting into the sand business.

“At least five local residents have started brokering imported sand. They primarily help buyers get good deals on sand and then take a commission,” T., explained.

P., the owner of a company that has been in the business for 20 years, explained that Cambodian sand is mainly yellow and considered a very high quality river sand.
There are many kinds of yellow sand and their prices are different. In particular, 1.4-millimeter sand is priced at VND170,000 ($6.8) per cubic meter and sand measuring 2.2-2.5 millimeters in diameter costs VND270,000-280,000 ($10.9-11.3) per cubic meter.

“As far as I know, Cambodian companies are not able to exploit sand on their own. The majority of Cambodian sand is exploited by Vietnamese enterprises in collaboration with Cambodian people,” P. shared.

“These firms later sell sand to domestic companies.”

Encouraging sand imports
A representative of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment of An Giang Province said that in the past, Cambodian sand had been imported into An Giang and then re-exported to third countries.

Cambodia later asked Vietnam to suspend the exportation of its sand to third countries.
“Sand imports from Cambodia are not banned in Vietnam,” the official said.

“At present, Vietnam is facing a scarcity of sand, so we must import. An Giang is almost out of yellow sand, so right now we are mainly using black sand.”

Phan Van Tam, deputy head of the customs office at Vinh Xuong International Border Gate under the An Giang Department of Customs, shared that large volumes of sand have been imported from Cambodia since June.

During the second half of this year, 11 enterprises have imported more than 2.5 million cubic meters of sand through Vinh Xuong International Border Gate.

The two largest of these companies are Thinh Phat and Dong Duong.

Sand imported through Vinh Xuong International Border Gate is typically declared at $6 per cubic meter and importers are subject to a 10-percent value added tax.

According to Tam, Cambodia banned sand exports following landslides in 2010.

In 2022, it lifted the ban, leading to Vietnamese flocking to Cambodia to exploit sand and resell it to domestic firms.

“In the past, Cambodia’s sand was shipped to Vietnam for re-export. Now, it is only allowed to be used in Vietnam,” Tam said.

“Enterprises must first get a license from the Ministry of Industry and Trade to re-export the sand.”

According to a customs official at Vinh Xuong International Border Gate, many enterprises from across Vietnam have reached out to Vinh Xuong to learn about current sand prices.

“Barge rentals cost about VND300 million [$12,065] per month, not to mention basic living expenses and fuel costs,” the official said.  Tuoi Tre News


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