Cambodian and Thai officials said yesterday an agreement on the Overlapping Claims Area in the Gulf of Thailand was still far from completion – and oil production could be as far as 10 years off.
Thai Minister of Energy Pichai Naripthaphan yesterday arrived in Phnom Penh to discuss the 27,000-square-kilometre block, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas, with Deputy Prime Minister and Cambodian Nat-ional Petroleum Authority chairman Sok An.
However, officials emphasised the long road ahead as both sides slowly re-initiated talks on a number of contentious issues following years of tensions, which have begun to wane since Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s elect-ion victory in July.
“There was no detailed discussion about the oil and gas claims. This was the first meeting to find out the intentions of the two countries,” Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Cambodian government, said after the closed-door session.
The positive result of the discussions indicated that there shouldn’t be any obstacles to coming to an agreement on the OCA, he said, with the maritime border to be discussed first followed by plans for the economic development of the area.
Cambodia and Thailand have for decades failed to reach such an agreement.
In 2001, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding that provided the framework for development of the OCA. But Thailand cancelled the MoU in 2009 after ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was appointed an economic adviser to the Cambodian government.
The Thai officials in Phnom Penh yesterday said that MoU would need to be approved again by the Thai government before negotiations with Cambodia went further.
Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who met with his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong yesterday, noted that his ministry was bound by legal requirements on how to proceed in negotiations.
“The present [Pheu Thai Party] government must decide whether to proceed with that MoU, and we would still have to present it to parliament and negotiate with parliament, which we would then use with our negotiations with Cambodia,” he said, stressing also that there was “no timeframe for completing negotiations”.
Minister of Energy Pichai Naripthaphan echoed those sentiments, saying also that it would be about a decade before either side produced any oil.
“There are a lot of processes, and it could be eight to 10 years before a single drop of oil and gas comes out,” Pichai said.
Still, both Thai officials expressed optimism that a deal could be reached.
Insiders yesterday emphasised the need for both continued diplomacy and transparency in order to reach an equitable solution in the OCA.
“I personally believe if this is to be handled through diplomatic means, then there is a chance of success,” Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian studies in Singapore, said.
Mam Sambath, chairman of rights group Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency, said he thought a permanent agreement was likely now that both sides were willing to sit down together.
He also said that the history of OCA negotiations had been “one of secrecy”, and he hoped the two countries would include civil society in the process.
“Civil society has comments to share for these negotiations, and the negotiations would benefit from what civil society has learned from democratic countries that are experienced in oil and gas,” he said.
Mam Sambath pointed to a rule in Cambodia’s constitution that required the country’s citizens to benefit equitably from natural resources.
“So it is important the public have an opportunity to be involved in the negotiation process,” he said.