Cambodia and Thailand yesterday agreed to boost bilateral trade and investment by establishing two special economic zones along their shared border and to push for the construction of a 1,800 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Koh Kong province.
The moves will “promote the livelihoods of people from the two neighbours”, said Cambodia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong after a closed-door border meeting between Cambodia and Thailand yesterday in
“We agreed to set up special economic zones – one is in Banteay Meanchey province bordering Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province, and the other is in Koh Kong province bordering Thailand’s eastern Trat
province,” he added.
Thai Deputy Prime minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said both sides tasked a joint working group with discussing further details on the zones.
They also agreed to develop new routes between the countries, set up a project to help Cambodian farmers export rice to Thailand at fair prices, and to establish new checkpoints along the border in Preah Vihear, Battambang, Pursat and Oddar Meanchey provinces.
“These international check points will contribute to trade exchanges along the border, and will also promote a stronger understanding of each other,” Namhong said.
In the past five years, Preah Vihear province has been the site of violent and fatal clashes over a Hindu temple that the International Court of Justice in The Hague awarded to Cambodia decades ago. The ICJ is expected to issue a verdict on disputed territory surrounding the temple later this year.
Namhong, who did not say if the negotiations affected the contested area, said the Thais were prepared to help with road construction on national roads 48, five and six in order to better facilitate transportation connections between the two countries.
Though no details of what would be built, traded or developed in the special economic zones were released, the deal was announced in a spirit of optimism, as if Cambodians and Thais were on the brink of everlasting friendship.
Namhong said residents of both countries would teach each other their languages, so they could work together in the future, either at the power plant or in the two special economic zones.
In addition, he said that the two countries had agreed to increase cooperation in tourism, healthcare, and anti-human trafficking across the border, referring to Cambodian workers who were tricked to go abroad by brokers and saddled with debt.
The senior officials did not offer specifics for the dam construction, but the Post previously reported that Cambodian tycoon Ly Yong Phat was working on a $3 billion joint venture with Thai energy firm Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Plc.
The agreements come on the heels of a plan by Cambodia and Thailand accounced in late May to create 15 new border patrol teams that will help prevent the growing number of shooting deaths along the border
In 2012, at least 45 Cambodians were killed by Thai soldiers while crossing the border, a figure that tripled the death count from the year before.
The teams are supposed to patrol their own side of the border and communicate with each other to report on movements from both sides.
Minister of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said that the issue of the shooting deaths was not on the agenda for the meeting as it had been discussed in May.
Cambodian goods continue to do well in Thai markets.
According to data from the Ministry of Commerce, total exports from Cambodia to Thailand amounted to $102 million in the first quarter of 2013 compared with a little more than $85 million in the same period the year before, an increase of almost 20 per cent.
Imports from Thailand slightly declined more than four per cent, from $1.048 billion to $1 billion in the same time period.
Cambodia imports mainly include petroleum, processed goods, cement, consumer products, construction materials, fruits, vegetables and cosmetics from its northern neighbour.
It ships agricultural products, second hand garments, recyclable metal, and fish to Thailand.