Cambodia is reportedly keen to set up a new joint team with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) to conduct a more detailed examination of the possibility of formally launching free trade agreement (FTA) talks with the bloc soon, and add impetus to underwhelming bilateral trade ties.

The initiative had been raised at the 3rd Joint Working Group Meeting between the Cambodian government and the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) – the executive body of the EAEU – held via video link from September 7-8.

The meeting was chaired by Ministry of Commerce secretary of state Tek Reth Kamrong, and the EAEU was represented by Sergey Glazyev, the EEC Board member (minister) in charge of integration and macroeconomics.

Comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, the EAEU is home to 184.6 million people and represents a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $4.778 trillion, according to International Monetary Fund estimates for 2020.

At last week’s meeting, the two sides pledged to deepen cooperation in a number of key areas, including trade and investment cooperation, the energy industry and infrastructure, science and technology, innovation, digital developments, information and communication technology, technical trade barriers and regulations, customs, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, intellectual property, consumer protection and competition.

Kamrong emphasised that the meeting was indispensable to deepen Cambodia-EAEU trade and investment cooperation.

She said participants at the meeting also shared experiences related to domains such as customs, agriculture, information technology, business support and micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, as well as the development of “technical regulations”.

“Cambodia is now willing to set up a joint working group to examine the possibility of launching free trade agreement negotiations between Cambodia and the EEC in the near future,” Kamrong added.

First held in the Kingdom in 2017 and then the following year in Russia, the joint working group meetings are organised under the framework of the MoU, signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2016.

Cambodia Chamber of Commerce vice-president Lim Heng told The Post that the EAEU would one day join the ranks of the US, Europe, China and South Korea as a notable buyer of Cambodian goods.

Composed of countries with large populations and thriving economies, the bloc has caught the interest of Cambodia and will one day represent an important target market for exports, he opined.

He suggested the Kingdom make a major push to capture more market share, noting that “the establishment of an FTA will make Cambodian exports more marketable”.

According to Heng, Cambodia mostly exports agricultural products and finished textile products to the EAEU, while imports include tractors, machinery and agricultural vehicle parts.

Bilateral trade between Cambodia and the EAEU was worth $67.37 million last year, increasing by 18.22 per cent over $56.98 million in 2019, according to data from the commerce ministry.

The Kingdom’s exports accounted for $52.19 million, marking a 0.73 per cent year-on-year rise from $51.81 million in 2019, and imports stood at $15.18 million, rocketing by 193.57 per cent from $5.17 million.

These number indicate that Cambodia’s trade surplus with the EAEU narrowed by nearly 21 per cent, from nearly $46.65 to $37.0 million.