Cambodia and the EU have renewed their pledges to enhance bilateral trade and investment ties in spite of the lingering economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. The EU was Cambodia’s largest trading partner in 2018, accounting for 45 per cent of the Kingdom’s exports that year, and 95.7 per cent of those entered the bloc under tariff preferences granted by the ‘Everything But Arms’ (EBA) trade regime, as reported by the European Commission. Overall, Cambodia was the second-largest user of EBA preferences, behind only Bangladesh.

However, Cambodian trade with Italy has been relatively low, at least when compared to a number of other EU member states.

Newly-appointed Italian ambassador to Cambodia Paolo Dionisi, who resides in the Thai capital Bangkok, gave an interview to The Post’s May Kunmakara, discussing his mission to bring trade and investment between the two nations to the next level.

Could you briefly give your view on the current state of Cambodia-Italy diplomatic ties?

The Italian government has sound and friendly relations with many Southeast Asian countries, including the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Deeply intensifying our relations in all sectors is a key objective I am fully committed to attain.

To this end, not only can we benefit from the terrific momentum created by Cambodia’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2022, but we look forward to the future opportunities for a deeper and more structured dialogue, bilaterally and at the EU level.

How do you plan to improve our bilateral trade relations, which have historically been quite limited?

It is true that the trade volumes between our countries are still quite moderate, but I was happy to find out that the total trade value grew not just in 2021 compared to 2020 – a 12 per cent increase – but was already experiencing a positive trend before the pandemic, in 2019.

While this is certainly good groundwork, I’m convinced the room for improvement is still large: bilaterally and within the competent EU bodies, we will do our best to reduce any obstacles to a freer and more diverse trade environment.

What local industries are Italian investors and businesses eyeing?

The Cambodian market is a dynamic one and is attracting growing interest from many Italian investors and businesses. Our brands and companies, which we will strive to attract more and more in the Kingdom, are already much appreciated for the manufactural quality and design by growingly aware Cambodian customers.

In this regard, the embassy will also continue to support the activities of the Italian-Cambodian Business Association that is set to expand its membership and range of activities in the coming months.

I am also working on a possible merger of this body with the Italian Chamber of Commerce already operating in Thailand in order to have a larger base of Italian companies to operate in Cambodia.

The Cambodian economy could provide terrific investment opportunities for our businesses in many different sectors: construction, food and beverage, industrial and agricultural machinery, pharmaceuticals, design and furniture, fashion, tourism – just to name a few.

As the new ambassador of Italy, together with all the Italian agencies and institutions operating here, I am committed to help our entrepreneurs exploring this new market and harness the great opportunities it presents.

In January 2021, Cambodia launched the Economic Diplomacy Strategy for 2021-2023, to promote trade, investment, culture and tourism with the outside world. What could this initiative bring to the table, specifically in terms of promoting our economic relations?

I think the comprehensive approach behind this Cambodian initiative is the right one and I congratulate the Cambodian government for this action.

Italy has a very similar vision to promote its economic system abroad. Launched almost one year ago, the “BeIT” campaign aims to promote a more complete and up-to-date picture of our best energies and talents, with an eye of favouring the internationalisation of our companies.

Within this framework, we will also promote new events and initiatives in the Country, which I am sure will strengthen the cultural ties between our two peoples, with positive spillovers in terms of touristic and economic exchanges as well.

How do Italian investors view the Kingdom’s most recent bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements and its export-market diversification initiatives, particularly those targeting the region and the West?

Certainly the possibility of using the agreement to look at increasingly large areas of the market in this part of the world will make Cambodia even more attractive for more and more Italian companies. I’m sure Italy will be increasingly present and active in Cambodia and in the other ASEAN countries.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.