Officials have suggested that the 14 partner signatories to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) establish a trade secretariat in Phnom Penh. The agreement, which aims to boost economic development, came into force at the beginning of 2022.
Sok Siphana, an adviser to the government and chairman of the Asian Vision Institute (AVI), floated the idea while delivering a February 4 lecture which summarised the achievements and challenges of Cambodia’s chairmanship of ASEAN at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, with around 140 relevant parties in attendance.
“We are not sure if they will embrace the idea at this stage, but we have explained the potential benefits to them. If Cambodia is selected, it will have far-reaching benefits for the local economy. RCEP is one of the largest trading blocs in the world, and is sure to hold many large meetings in the coming years,” he said.
“If we become the host nation for the secretariat, every time a meeting is convened to discuss commerce, the agreements signatories will visit the Kingdom. When they visit, hotel owners will smile. While they are here, they will spend money, and we will have the opportunity to show our visitors the potential of Cambodia,” he added.
He continued that many neighbouring and regional countries play host to the permanent headquarters of intergovernmental organisations or the UN, but Cambodia does not.
“Thailand, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam are all home to several international organisations, but the Kingdom is not,” he said.
“Indonesia is currently lobbying intergovernmental organisations that focus on trade and investment to relocate to Jakarta, where the ASEAN Secretariat is already located, as it already has a high-rise building available,” he added.
The RCEP encompasses the 10 ASEAN member states and the five additional Asia-Pacific countries of China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The 15 nations account for roughly one-third each of the global GDP, trade and population.
Hong Vannak, an economist at the Institute of International Relations at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that if the Kingdom is able to attract the RCEP to Phnom Penh, it will yield many benefits, including tourism growth, increased investment and an improved international reputation.
“The establishment of an international headquarters in Cambodia would send a signal to the world that the Kingdom is a capable host. Investors from around the world would take note of this, and also know that Phnom Penh is a good place to access the RCEP bloc and its officials,” he added.
The 15 countries signed the RCEP agreement via video conference on November 15, 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The signing followed eight years of negotiations, which began in 2012, the second time Cambodia chaired ASEAN.
The agreement came into force on January 1, 2022.