Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida to consider calling for a study on the potential establishment of a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), convince importers to buy more Cambodian “priority” agricultural products, and encourage prominent Japanese companies to invest in the Kingdom.

The Cambodian prime minister made the requests during Kishida’s two-day official visit to the Kingdom from March 20-21.

This was the latest in Hun Sen’s efforts to further expand bilateral trade and advance economic cooperation with Japan, as well as to secure greater Japanese investment in the Kingdom.

The two sides agreed to elevate their bilateral strategic partnership to new heights, as Hun Sen underscored that next year would mark the 10th anniversary of the partnership – established on December 15, 2013 – as well as the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries – inaugurated on January 9, 1953.

According to the premier, the two parties agreed to combine efforts and turn the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port into a major international trade hub, as well as to press on with action against Covid-19 aimed for a speedy economic recovery.

Both sides voiced delight that new Japanese investment in Cambodia rebounded last year and that bilateral trade remained stable just below the $2 billion mark, following considerable declines in 2020, even amid the challenges and uncertainty posed by the Covid-19 crisis.

Preliminary commerce ministry statistics indicate that bilateral trade topped $1.700 billion in 2021, inching up by 0.49 per cent from more than $1.692 billion in 2020. Cambodian exports to Japan stood at $1.094 billion, up by 3.61 per cent over 2020, whereas imports were $607 million, down by 4.68 per cent year-on-year.

Hun Sen disclosed that he was looking to sell specific major Japanese multinational conglomerates on setting up factories in the Kingdom, listing Panasonic Corp, Toshiba Corp, Mitsubishi Electric Corp and Yamaha Corp as prime examples.

The Japanese prime minister praised Cambodia for promulgating the new Law on Investment in October, which he said would foster business expansions.

To fully capitalise on the new law and spur Japanese investment, the two premiers agreed to work on further improving the investment climate in Cambodia, through bilateral investment agreements and public-private sector meetings.

The two sides also discussed ways to strengthen and expand bilateral cooperation in fields such as manufacturing, energy, tourism and other economic sectors, as well as security, communications networks, and intellectual exchanges.

Royal Academy of Cambodia economics researcher Ky Sereyvath views Hun Sen’s requests collectively as a “strong effort” by the current administration for the benefit of the people, made not as “a farmer or a worker, but a citizen”.

“Encouraging Japan to help buy agricultural products and motivating Japanese companies to invest in Cambodia are ambitions of the Royal Government meant to help both farmers and workers,” he told The Post on March 21.

“Factories create more jobs for workers, and aside from those making garments, [new] plants will be more inclined to be in medium-industry.”

Sereyvath argued that the entry of more businesses from more countries into Cambodia would be a boon for workers’ rights and wages, and create a highly competitive arena for investors.