The government is exploring the idea of entering into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group to shore up international online sales of Cambodian products.

Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak on February 14 chaired a first key meeting of an ad-hoc working group tasked with studying the practicability of harnessing Alibaba’s platforms and technological solutions to ratchet up formal exports and other overseas sales of locally-made goods, the commerce ministry said in a notice later that day.

A draft version of the MoU was drawn up following three meetings between the working group and Alibaba, the notice said, adding that the commerce ministry had “worked closely” with the tech firm to this end, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the OVOP (One Village One Product) National Committee.

And as an electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) partnership between Cambodia and Alibaba – announced late last year – takes shape, the ministry has teamed up with the private sector to ship locally-grown longan to China that was sold on the firm’s platforms, it said, adding that a hefty 18 tonnes were sold during an unspecified three-day span.

“The eWTP is an Alibaba-led initiative that helps small- and medium-sized enterprises do business globally,” according to Alibaba Cloud.

To recap, on October 27, longan became the third Cambodian fruit to be officially exported directly to China in fresh form, after bananas and mangoes, following months of inspections and other preparations.

Longan – also known by the botanical name Dimocarpus longan – is a tropical evergreen tree species native to Asia that produces white-fleshed edible fruit of the soapberry family, which also includes lychees and rambutan.

The most renowned variety is the Pailin longan, named after Cambodia’s second smallest province by area, which borders Chanthaburi and Trat in Thailand.

Neang Samrithkomar, Cambodian consul-general in eastern China’s Shanghai city, confirmed to local media on December 21 that an event was held nine days earlier in nearby Hangzhou, Zhejiang – where Alibaba Group is based – marking the official green light for legitimate listings of Pailin longan on the tech powerhouse’s e-marketplaces.

Samrithkomar unveiled plans that he said are backed by Alibaba, to import 20,000 tonnes of Pailin longan a year from Cambodia for sale on the online platforms operated by the multinational conglomerate – which reportedly sells no inventory of its own.

He highlighted the potential of Alibaba’s e-commerce ecosystem in familiarising China’s “more than 1.4 billion” consumer market with Cambodian agricultural products, and improving the livelihoods of the Kingdom’s farmers.

And he claimed that Cambodian-grown mangoes and bananas too could someday make their way onto the platforms – which include, AliExpress, Taobao, Tmall and 1688.

Phot Saphanborey, board director chief of Pechenda Fruit Production PFP Co Ltd, a company that cleans, processes and packages agricultural products, agreed that Alibaba would further raise the profile of Pailin longan on the international stage.

In late December, he shared that, since October 27, businesses from China, Thailand, Malaysia and elsewhere had been contacting his company, expressing interest in exporting longan.

However, with a daily processing capacity of 60-90 tonnes, Pechenda must prioritise its clients, as it finds the financing needed to expand and meet the growing demand, he admitted.

Nationwide, annual Pailin longan production capacity is currently estimated at 100,000, and expected to grow by 10-15 per cent a year in the near term, Saphanborey said.

Meanwhile, the commerce ministry announced in a separate statement, also issued on February 14, that it had signed an MoU earlier in the day with Lanton Cloud Service Technology Co Ltd to promote e-commerce in Cambodia as well as strengthen the presence of local products on domestic, regional and global markets.

The company bills itself as “Cambodia’s leading independent one-stop digital life services, founded by Dr Li Kun, the chairman of Lanmei Aviation Group”.

At the signing ceremony, Sorasak said the deal would encourage public-private partnerships to deliver on these core objectives, as well as foster links between the commerce ministry’s online systems and private sector-created platforms powered by Lanton Cloud technologies, to enable Cambodian products to reach a broader international customer base, the statement said.