T HE Vietnamese government has issued new regulations for cargo coming to Cambodia via the Mekong River which, according to Minister of Transport Ing Kieth, has resulted in "a very difficult situation" between Cambodia and Vietnam and which is forcing sea trade to be diverted away from Phnom Penh port to Sihanoukville.
"In the last month seven ships have been stopped at the mouth of the Mekong," said Kieth because they lacked the new paperwork required by Vietnamese authorities.
Kieth suggested that the new regulations might be in retaliation for the recent passage of Cambodia's new immigration law, which has been officially criticized by the Vietnamese government.
"I suppose there are some interconnections, especially in the last few months," said Kieth, referring to the new law which Vietnamese fear will result in ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia being either deported or put in detention centers.
The Vietnamese Embassy was unavailable to comment on the matter as the Post went to press.
The new regulations require shippers carrying multiple cargoes to present documents for each separate consignment to Vietnamese authorities before being allowed to pass through Vietnam to Cambodia. Previously, no such documentation was required.
Ocean going vessels carrying goods or containers from a variety of customers generally do not carry individualized documentation for each consignment on board.
Kieth said he had raised the issue with Vietnamese officials during a recent visit to Vietnam, although it had not been resolved. He noted that since 1954 Cambodia and Vietnam had been operating under an agreement declaring the Mekong an "international waterway" thereby allowing Cambodia unfettered access to the ocean via the river.
"We have to sit around the table to resolve this issue," said Kieth.
The minister added that he thought the issue should be raised with the Mekong Committee as the new regulations effected other countries along the Mekong River as well.
Kieth said he had submitted a report to the Council of Ministers and that the Council would debate the issue and decide what steps to take this week.
While Kieth said the increased load on the port of Sihanoukville was having no impact and that the facilities there could handle the larger volume of trade, one shipper who asked not to be named said that cargoes were starting to back up at Cambodia's only coastal port. Even if he port is capable of handling the traffic, with Route 4 undergoing repairs, large containers unloaded in Sihanoukville would have to be shipped to Phnom Penh by train.