Cambodia has launched discussions to gather input on a draft agreement on bilateral economic and trade cooperation with Saudi Arabia, which aims to diversify trade and export markets in the Middle East and deepen bilateral investment linkages, according to the commerce ministry.

Commerce ministry secretary of state Pich Rithi on April 22 chaired a first inter-ministerial meeting, held in-person at the ministry, with representatives from “13 relevant ministries and institutions” in attendance, the ministry said in a statement a day after.

Rithi noted in the statement that during a meeting between the commerce ministry and Saudi ambassador on January 27, both sides voiced support for the establishment of soft-law instruments to use as a framework for setting up a Joint Economic Committee.

The committee would seek to reinforce partnerships across the two countries and ensure the effective expansion of cooperation in all fields, he said, adding that the draft agreement would be designed “in line with the essence” of a meeting between the foreign ministers of both nations held in the Kingdom on March 18.

“The agreement will provide an important legal basis for future opportunities for comprehensive cooperation between Cambodia and Saudi Arabia through complementary economic potential, trade diversification and export markets in the Middle East and deepen bilateral investment, to contribute to bolstering sustainable and inclusive national economic growth,” Rithi was quoted as saying.

The draft agreement covers cooperation in key priority areas such as trade, investment, banking, agriculture, industry, mining and energy, telecommunications, education, tourism and halal affairs.

On March 18, Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud met with Prime Minister Hun Sen, the latter of whom called for Cambodia and Saudi Arabia to step up cooperation in economic sectors and other areas in the Southeast Asian Kingdom with lucrative prospects, according to a statement posted on the premier’s Facebook page.

Prince Faisal told the prime minister that his latest visit to Cambodia was meant to strengthen bilateral ties and cooperation, primarily through talks with his counterpart Prak Sokhonn, the March 18 statement noted.

The top Saudi diplomat highlighted that tourism, technology, energy, education, culture and agriculture have significant room for bilateral cooperation, and asked Hun Sen for support for partnerships in these areas.

The prime minister agreed, saying he would welcome and encourage more cooperation in all areas with perceived potential – especially tourism, agriculture and trade.

For context, annual bilateral trade between the two countries has been very limited albeit with a tilt in Saudi Arabia’s favour, edging ever closer to $20 million and rising by over a fifth between 2019 and 2020, according to Trading Economics. Cambodian exports to and imports from Saudi Arabia in 2020 were to the tune of $3.1 million and $15.92 million, respectively.

The latest figures on the statistics website indicate that in 2020, “cereals” accounted for $2.05 million or about two-thirds of Cambodia’s exports, while “plastics” made up $14.24 million or nearly nine-tenths of the Kingdom’s imports.