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Co-op deal with Qatar nigh

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State-owned flag carrier Qatar Airways used to offer direct flights between Doha and Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Co-op deal with Qatar nigh

A new impetus in economic, trade and technical cooperation between Cambodia and Qatar will deliver a suite of economic benefits for the Kingdom, above all a driving force for exports to the Middle East and a major magnet to draw in more investors and tourists from the region, according to observers.

On March 16, the Ministry of Commerce held an inter-ministerial meeting to discuss the contents of and push for an early finalisation of a draft agreement on economic, trade and technical cooperation between Cambodia and Qatar, attended by representatives from 12 ministries and institutions.

Ministry undersecretary of state Penn Sovicheat, who chaired the meeting, said that the document has been discussed and scrutinised by ministry officials and technical experts time and again, and that Phnom Penh and Doha have agreed on almost the entirety of its content.

“Cambodia now is making haste to finalise the draft agreement so that it can be signed at the right time,” he said.

Cambodia Chamber of Commerce vice-president Lim Heng told The Post on March 20 that the instrument would position the Kingdom to reap “many benefits”, supported by direct flights between the two countries provided by state-owned flag carrier Qatar Airways.

He said the pact would not only widen the scope of bilateral cooperation but expand Cambodian market access to the Middle East, “one of the most developed economies in the world”.

“Strengthening cooperation with Qatar is a fresh indicator of Cambodia’s increasing ability building to reduce its dependence on existing markets through the use of preferential tariffs, such as the EU’s ‘Everything But Arms’ [EBA] and generalised systems of preferences [GSP], and so on.

“Strengthening trade relations also means opening up export markets for Cambodian products,” he said.

Heng added that the Kingdom’s exports to Qatar – known as the home of the Al Jazeera news channel – include agricultural products, textile-related goods and halal foods – or foods permissible under Islamic Law as defined in the religion’s holy book, the Quran.

Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan said that direct flights between Qatar and Phnom Penh have done wonders for Cambodia’s tourism sector, profiling Middle Eastern visitors as big spenders.

However, he said, to position Cambodia as an attractive destination for Middle Eastern tourists and investors, it will be necessary to provide higher levels of service at accommodations, restaurants – especially the halal ones, places of worship and other facilities.

Hong Vanak, director of International Economics at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the Kingdom stands to gain substantial revenues from increased goods exports to and tourism inflows from Qatar, which he noted is “a prosperous country with a high-income population”.

Bringing up the Middle Eastern country’s vast expertise in the oil and gas sector, Vanak suggested Cambodia go on a charm offensive to convince Qatari businesspeople to invest in the oil and gas sector in the Kingdom.

“I believe that ramping up trade relations with Qatar will offer Cambodia many benefits,” he said, mentioning that the two countries have had an appreciable set of partnerships in aviation and other fields.

According to Sovicheat, the draft agreement on economic, trade and technical cooperation between Cambodia and Qatar covers a number of “key priority areas”, including trade, customs, investment, industry, agriculture, telecommunications, mining and energy, science, tourism, and transportation.

This agreement will provide an “essential legal basis” and the opportunity to formulate a comprehensive cooperation framework between the two countries down the road, tailored to promote bilateral trade and investment.

For context, Cambodian exports to and imports from Qatar in 2020 were to the tune of $0.56245 million and $2.71 million, respectively. Annual bilateral trade between the two countries has been very limited albeit with a tilt in Qatar’s favour, with 2020’s figure about one-eighth higher than 2019’s, but around one-eleventh lower than 2018’s, according to Trading Economics.

The latest figures from the statistics website indicate that in 2020, “articles of apparel, not knit or crocheted” accounted for $0.19158 million or 34.06 per cent of Cambodia’s exports, while “plastics” made up $2.69 million or almost all of the Kingdom’s imports.

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