Cambodia and Australia have reaffirmed their commitment to further boosting trade, investment and cooperation, especially on post-Covid recovery initiatives in all areas, according to the Ministry of Commerce on March 11.

The commerce ministry noted in a statement that the pledge was made during a meeting held at the ministry on March 10 between Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak and Australian ambassador Pablo Kang on the progress of Cambodia-Australia bilateral and regional economic and trade cooperation.

The minister said bilateral and multilateral trade involving Cambodia and Australia has “grown considerably”, pointing out that both countries are members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

He added that Cambodia, as the 2022 ASEAN chair, has also been pushing for progress on negotiations for an ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) upgrade, which he said is a “priority economic deliverable” (PED) under the Kingdom’s chairmanship.

The ASEAN Secretariat on October 1 reported that AANZFTA officials had set September 2022 as the tentative date for the conclusion of talks on the upgrade.

Meanwhile, the ambassador praised the Kingdom for its achievements concerning the PED, which he said were in line with global developments, according to the statement.

Kang views the completion of the AANZFTA upgrade negotiations as a priority for cooperation between ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand in 2022.

Similarly, major business players have voiced hope that the 15-member RCEP, which entered into force in Cambodia on January 1, will buoy trade between the Kingdom and Australia.

Covering Australia, Cambodia and the nine other ASEAN members, along with China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, the deal aims to create an open and conducive environment that facilitates and expands intra-regional trade and investment cooperation, and supports global economic growth and development.

Cambodia Chamber of Commerce vice-president Lim Heng told The Post on March 13 that Australia is one of the Kingdom’s “preferred trading partners”, and that the two countries’ bilateral trade relations are underpinned by the RCEP.

He also highlighted Canberra’s contributions to the Kingdom’s agricultural sector through initiatives such as the Cambodia-Australia Agricultural Value Chain Programme (CAVAC).

A CAVAC study has identified agriculture as a “priority sector” for exports to Australia, in addition to apparel and travel goods, which have established markets in the island nation, according to Heng.

The CAVAC programme lists nine items of Cambodian agricultural products as being of high value and demand in the Australian, New Zealand, European, Chinese and ASEAN markets. These are mango, longan, cashew nut, chilli, sweet potato, avocado, sesame, palm sugar and dried banana.

Heng went on to say that “apart from textiles and agriculture, Cambodia also has raw materials for export to the Australian market”.

He noted that Australia is also working with the Kingdom’s Supreme National Economic Council to establish agro-industrial parks outside of Phnom Penh. “I strongly support this plan as it will not only enhance domestic supply capacity but also expand export capacity,” he said.

Hong Vanak, director of International Economics at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, commented that the quality of trade relations between the Kingdom and Australia are “spectacular”, despite the volume of import and export flows paling in comparison to those with markets such as China or the US.

Cambodia also has a sizeable Australian business community that invests locally, he said.

“Increasing trade relations with Australia is necessary to strengthen Cambodia’s export sector, which could help curb reliance on preferential tariffs offered by a variety of schemes such as the EU’s ‘Everything But Arms’ [EBA] and generalised systems of preferences [GSP], and so on,” Vanak added.

Last year, bilateral trade between the two countries was worth $324 million, rising by 52 per cent from $213.64 million in 2020, according to commerce ministry data.

Although import and export figures for 2021 were not immediately available, the ministry earlier reported that the Kingdom exported $133.92 million worth of merchandise to Australia in 2020 – up by 0.26 per cent over 2019 – and imported $79.72 million, surging by 10.41 per cent year-on-year.