Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak and Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmed al-Zeyoudi on March 16 jointly announced the formal conclusion of talks for the Cambodia-United Arab Emirates Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CAM-UAE CEPA) via video link.

The announcement comes after three rounds of formal negotiations, and was made in the presence of around 100 people, including the members and chairpersons of the negotiating teams, as well as representatives of several ministries and institutions from both countries, according to a commerce ministry statement.

A CEPA is a type of free trade agreement (FTA) that is generally designed for a more holistic coverage beyond just commodities, and can contain provisions for services, investments, dispute resolution, intellectual property rights, government procurement, and additional forms of specialised economic cooperation.

The three rounds of formal negotiations for the CAM-UAE CEPA were respectively held on October 24-26 in Abu Dhabi, December 19-21 in Phnom Penh, and February 20-22 in Dubai. No official date has been given for the signing of the deal.

In the statement, the minister stated that by understanding the economic dynamics of the two countries, both communities should be able to optimise benefits under the CEPA, and drive socio-economic development in the interest of both populations.

The two countries will promote value chains, facilitate trade, encourage bilateral investment, and expand cooperation in areas with potential and novel opportunities offered by ASEAN and the Middle East, Sorasak said.

The ministry noted that the CEPA will cover: trade in goods; trade in services; technical barriers to trade; rules of origin; customs and trade facilitation; sanitary and phytosanitary measures; trade remedies; electronic commerce; investment; and intellectual property.

Other areas incorporated into the deal include: economic and technical cooperation; small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME); transparency; dispute settlement; administrative and institutional provisions; general provisions and exceptions; and final provisions.

Target Cambodian items for the Emirati market comprise: milled rice, vegetables, bananas, cashew nuts, mangoes, corn, peppercorn, durians, dried fruits, rice cakes, bicycles, electronic components, “electric vehicles”, travel bags, footwear and garments.

Anticipated benefits for Cambodia from the UAE include services in construction, engineering and environment-related fields, as well as other professional and business areas, according to the statement.

The commerce ministry earlier reported that Cambodia-UAE trade totalled $105 million in 2022, down by 28.57 per cent from $147 million in 2021. Cambodian exports to and imports from the UAE were to the tune of $70 million and $35 million, respectively, up 34 per cent and down 63 per cent on a yearly basis.

And according to Trading Economics, annual bilateral trade between the two countries increased nearly 48 per cent from $99.7 million in 2020 to $147.1 million in 2021, and had remained tilted in Cambodia’s favour in 2013-2019, until the UAE rebalanced the scales.

Cambodian exports to and imports from the UAE in 2021 were to the tune of $52.12 million and $94.94 million, respectively, rising by 18 per cent and 70.8 per cent over the 2020 figures, the statistics website indicated.

In 2021, “articles of apparel, knit or crocheted” accounted for the largest share of Cambodia’s exports, at 66 per cent or $34.47 million (down 7.2 per cent over 2019), while “mineral fuels, oils, distillation products” made up 79 per cent or $74.86 million (up 18.5-fold over 2019) of the Kingdom’s imports.

The two categories respectively correspond to chapters 61 and 27 of the Harmonised System (HS) of Tariff Nomenclature.