Local officials expect the Cambodia-United Arab Emirates Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CAM-UAE CEPA) to be signed in Phnom Penh later this year, at the fourth round of formal negotiations for the deal.

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 in Abu Dhabi next month and expected to feature the final technical meetings before the treaty is signed. It follows the first and second rounds held on October 24-26 and December 19-21, respectively. The negotiation rounds are alternately held between Abu Dhabi and Phnom Penh, the capitals of the two countries.

Tekreth Kamrang, Ministry of Commerce secretary of state and chairwoman of the Cambodian negotiation team for the CAM-UAE CEPA, on January 25 led a public-private consultative meeting centred on the Kingdom’s formal “offer” and “request” lists under the deal’s trade-in-services framework.

The meeting also sought to gather input to develop a more common perspective on local interests, to effectively promote investment inflows from the UAE and the Kingdom’s exports to the seven-emirate union, and better enable Cambodian entities to benefit from the CEPA.

Penn Sovicheat, ministry undersecretary of state and deputy chairman of the aforementioned Cambodian negotiation team, confidently affirmed to The Post on January 26 that all the technical meetings would be completed by the end of the third round, and that “two leaders” would sign the pact in the fourth.

Although commerce minister Pan Sorasak and UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmed al-Zeyoudi signed the declaration of the launch of formal negotiations for the CEPA on October 24, the jury is still out on who will ink the first-of-its-kind treaty for Cambodia.

Sovicheat seemed to think highly of the input from the January 25 meeting, remarking that the CAM-UAE CEPA would be a major impetus for Cambodia’s export diversification drive, especially in the agricultural field.

“We hope that this agreement will open new channels for Cambodian goods. Some agricultural products could make their way throughout the Middle East and Africa via the UAE,” he said, calling for local producers to keep their wares up to par in terms of quality and hygiene requirements.

When asked about the expected short duration of the talks as compared to those for Cambodia’s FTAs with mainland China and South Korea, Sovicheat explained that the UAE has experience with CEPAs, having already entered into such agreements with India, Indonesia and Israel.

Abu Dhabi also wants the CAM-UAE CEPA to be signed within the year, he confirmed.

Keo Mom, the CEO of Ly Ly Food Industry Co Ltd, one of the Kingdom’s largest food processing enterprises, reckoned that Cambodian textile-related items may be among the limited volume of goods traded between the two countries, and that most likely, no products made by local small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) have ever been officially exported there.

The deal will open doors for local producers to sell their goods to the UAE market, she said. “Producers want more export markets, since they not only allow local companies – especially SMEs – to grow faster, but also raise the profile of Cambodian products on the international market.”

According to the commerce ministry, key areas covered by the CEPA talks have included: transportation and distribution, education, accommodations and tourism, business, communications and telecommunications, health, engineering and construction, employment, technology, the environment, and finance.