French foreign trade minister Olivier Becht’s plans to visit the Kingdom from January 24-25 have been welcomed as a major step in improving economic cooperation between the two nations, including by a senior commerce official and a leader of the local business community.

The visit comes as a result of a meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on December 13, on the sidelines of the EU-ASEAN Commemorative Summit in the Belgian capital of Brussels that marked the 45th anniversary of EU-ASEAN Dialogue Relations, according to a statement from the French embassy in Phnom Penh.

Becht will be accompanied by a business delegation led by MEDEF International and Business France, it said, adding that the minister is due to meet Hun Sen, Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak and Council for the Development of Cambodia secretary-general Sok Chenda Sophea.

It said that Becht is also scheduled to meet with members of the “5,000-strong” French community in Cambodia, including representatives of the “very dynamic” business community.

“This visit is in line with France’s increased commitment to ASEAN, as indicated in 2022 by the participation of President [Emmanuel] Macron at the G20 Summit in Bali and the APEC Summit in Bangkok,” the statement said.

Southeast Asia is key to France’s Indo-Pacific strategy, as potentially the world’s most economically dynamic region, with a particularly sustained growth rate, it said, adding that ASEAN is the EU’s third largest trading partner outside Europe – after the US and China.

Ministry of Commerce undersecretary of state and spokesman Penn Sovicheat voiced confidence that the visit would further enhance Cambodia-France diplomatic and economic relations, as bilateral trade continues to rise.

And with the business delegation in his company, “there’ll be wonderful opportunities for the private sectors of both our countries to have face-to-face conversations and engagements, to seek partnerships and exchange investment ideas”, he said.

Lim Heng, vice-president of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, the Kingdom’s apex business association, commented to The Post on January 22 that the Kingdom has long-standing diplomatic relations with its former colonial power, with economic ties improving each year.

Cambodia exports milled rice, Kampot pepper, palm sugar and a number of other agricultural products to France, he noted.

“The French foreign trade minister’s visit underscores their [Paris’] commitment to further promoting economic ties between our two countries – both sides have a very close relations ship,” Heng said.

In June 9-10, the first France-Cambodia Business Forum was held in Phnom Penh, seeking to promote investment, increase cooperation and expand bilateral trade between the two nations.

The forum was organised by the French Cambodian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIFC) and the French Foreign Trade Advisors (CCE) Cambodia Section.

CCE Cambodia Section chairman Arnaud Darc disclosed at the event that the CCIFC’s membership comprises 150 French companies, and that a recent CCE survey had found that there were more than 500 French firms doing business in Cambodia.

According to the General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia (GDCE), the merchandise trade between Cambodia and France last year was valued at $542.369 million, up 25.92 per cent compared to the $430.715 million registered in 2021.

Cambodian exports to and imports from France reached $423.131 million and $119.238 million respectively, up 27.89 per cent and 19.41 per cent year-on-year, expanding the Kingdom’s trade surplus with the EU’s second-largest economy by 31.55 per cent, from $231.006 million in 2021 to $303.892 million last year.