The Ministry of Commerce announced that it held a February 3 inter-ministerial working group meeting to discuss the upcoming third round of formal negotiations for the Cambodia-United Arab Emirates Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CAM-UAE CEPA), and consider potential items to place on the agenda.

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 third round of talks is set to be held from February 20-22 in Dubai, as opposed to the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi, the ministry confirmed in a statement. It follows the first and second rounds respectively held on October 24-25 in Abu Dhabi, and December 19-21 in Phnom Penh.

Officials have confirmed to The Post that the CAM-UAE CEPA is expected to be signed in the Kingdom later this year, at the fourth round.

The February 3 statement noted that the latest meeting was chaired by Tekreth Kamrang, ministry secretary of state and chairwoman of the Cambodian negotiation team for the CAM-UAE CEPA.

The ministry listed the main chapters discussed at the meeting as: trade in goods; trade in services; investment; electronic commerce; rules of origin; trade facilitation; technical barriers to trade; sanitary and phytosanitary measures; intellectual property; trade remedies; economic and technical cooperation; small- and medium-sized enterprises; and legal and institutional provisions.

Speaking in the statement, Kamrang voiced appreciation for the heads and members of the 11 connected inter-ministerial negotiating working groups, “for their hard work, proactiveness, flexibility and high sense of responsibility at all stages of negotiations.

She spurred group members on “to reach a CAM-UAE CEPA in the near future that will serve the interest of the people, including consumers, producers, businesspeople and investors”.

Hong Vanak, director of International Economics at the Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC), believes that all trade agreements, whether bilateral or multilateral, are beneficial to the economy as well as cooperation between signatory countries.

Speaking to The Post on February 5, Vanak contended that the CAM-UAE CEPA will be a major boon for Cambodian exports, in part due to the wealth and prosperity enjoyed by the UAE, positioning the oil-and-gas-rich country as a springboard for the Kingdom’s products into other Arab markets and nearby destinations in Africa.

The deal will create a bigger market for Cambodian products and ratchet up investments in the production of exports to the Arab region, as well as underpin market diversification initiatives, he said.

Vanak suggested that the local business community work with Emirati players to learn how to tap into Cambodian oil and gas resources, leveraging the UAE’s vast experience in investments in the field.

The commerce ministry reported that Cambodia-UAE trade totalled $105 million in 2022, down by 28.57 per cent from $147 million. 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.