Cambodia and Thailand aim to attain $15 billion in two-way trade by the end of this year, an ambitious goal given that last year’s trade was worth $9 billion.
To find out how the countries plan to achieve this, May Kunmakara spoke with Cambodian Ambassador to Thailand Ouk Sorphorn.
Q: The Thai embassy in Cambodia recently held a trade exhibition in Phnom Penh to boost trade and investment between the two countries. How did it go?
Sorphorn: This event was an excellent opportunity for entrepreneurs and traders from both countries to meet potential partners and expand their markets.
It was an important step towards achieving our ambitious bilateral trade goals. The event also contributed to Cambodia’s integration into regional and global markets since both Cambodia and Thailand are members of Asean and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
I am very optimistic about trade relations with Thailand since bilateral trade is increasing every year. We mainly export agricultural products – such are rice, corn, soybeans, cassava, cashew nuts, and mangoes – to Thailand, and buy crude oil, machinery, electronic equipment, construction materials, cosmetics, and home appliances, among others.
The Thai embassy said bilateral trade between the two kingdoms was worth some $9 billion last year, up 7.14 per cent from 2018’s $8.4 billion.
Q: In 2016, the leaders of Cambodia and Thailand agreed to work together to increase trade to $15 million by the end of the year. What action has been taken to get us there?
Sorphorn: Between 1994 and 2017, Thailand was one of the top 10 investors in the Kingdom, according to the latest data from the Council for the Development of Cambodia. During that period, Thailand invested $967.89 million.
Moreover, major Thai businesses such as CP All Plc (the sole operator of 7-Eleven convenient stores) and TCC Group (the operator of Big C supermarkets) have pledged to expand their investment in Cambodia this year. Both of these investments will significantly contribute to the growing trade between the two countries.
On the diplomatic side, Thailand and Cambodia maintain excellent relations, as reflected by our regular high-level visits and meetings, which have helped enhance mutual understanding and cooperation.
Q: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Cambodia and Thailand. How will this be celebrated?
Sorphorn: My staff and I plan to organise several events to mark the occasion. [This] week, we will have our first event: ‘A Decade of Economic and Trade Growth between Cambodia and Thailand.’ Promoting trade and investment will be the primary goal in this new decade.
The second event is a seminar series called ‘Ambassadors’ Discourse.’ The seminars will be held at four of the best universities in Bangkok: Thammasat, Chulalongkorn, Ramkhamhaeng, and Assumption. I have been invited to talk about bilateral cooperation between Cambodia and Thailand at these events.
We will also hold the Seventh Thailand-Cambodia Joint Trade Committee (JTC) Meeting led by the ministers of commerce of both countries.
The meeting will address key issues and challenges in trade and aims to find new ways to promote cross-border trade, investment, and industrial development in special economic zones. It will be held in June.
In early September, before the Pchum Ben holiday, a ‘Peace Concert’ will be held in Thailand’s Chonburi province. The event will feature performances from Cambodian and Thai artists. The theme is the celebration of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
Alongside this event, we will be organising a trade fair with thousands of Cambodian and Thai products, from agricultural goods to beauty products. We are now beginning to organise this event and are seeking media partnerships and sponsorships from both countries.
Finally, in late November, we will have two more events – The Cambodian Independence Day and the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Thailand.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity