With the recent announcement of the New Zealand Cambodia association and the signing of an airways agreement with the Cambodia’s aviation authorities, New Zealand is looking to strengthen its ties with the Kingdom. The Post’s Ananth Baliga sat down with the New Zealand's ambassador to Cambodia, Reuben Levermore, last week to discuss the shared opportunities the two nations offer each other.
You have announced the establishment of the New Zealand Cambodia Association? What will the association look to achieve?
We are excited that two new associations will announce themselves. And we want to support them. And those are the New Zealand Alumni Association Cambodia and the New Zealand Cambodia Association.
We don’t have an embassy here in Cambodia, but we do have many friends. We’ve got many students who have studied in New Zealand over the years.
And we also have a growing number of New Zealand business people and entrepreneurs here in Phnom Penh. So those two organisations have sprung up from the enthusiasm of those groups.
And I guess when I speak about the New Zealand Cambodia Association it is a great opportunity for us to develop trade and business relations with Cambodia.
Because it is still at a very early stage. ASEAN as an entity is New Zealand third largest trading partner. But our trade with Cambodia is very modest.
But I think if this country continues to grow at a healthy rate more New Zealand companies will show interest in Cambodia. So this could be the start. So I am very enthusiastic about it.
So will the New Zealand Cambodia Association be a facilitator in driving an increase in economic activity between two countries?
I think so. I think it means first you have businesspeople exchanging ideas.
You have networking and I hope also with Cambodian counterparts. But also when New Zealand businesspeople come to Phnom Penh they have an association or group to turn to.
As an embassy we can help publicise that group and their activities. So I think the first thing is help build the know-ledge and networks to allow people to make decisions about business.
What sectors do you feel could be used to build these relations?
Well, as a government we don’t take preference. We try to create the conditions for the business to take place.
We have an excellent trade agreement with the whole of ASEAN which Cambodia is part of: the Australia New Zealand ASEAN FTA. That’s great and as I said we haven’t seen much trade specifically with Cambodia yet.
But if you look at ASEAN as an entity, New Zealand has produced a lot of high quality food and beverage products.
But also beyond the primary products a lot of services. And I think we are seeing engineering and consulting services, here in Cambodia. Some food products but not much.
Those are the things that we export to the world so I don’t see why that can’t be the case with Cambodia.
It’s not only about trade. I think there is a lot of opportunity in tourism both ways. Our stats tell us that 5,000 New Zealanders come to Cambodia each year. I think it is more than that.
Some of them leave New Zealand saying they are coming to Cambodia.
Others travel the region and then come. And Cambodia is developing a great reputation. And New Zealanders are very adventurous travellers.
We would also love to welcome more Cambodians in New Zealand. So that is also got a lot of potential. I feel that we have to give it time but we have to start somewhere and that starts now.
Do you have any details about the air-services agreement the New Zealand foreign minister will be signing with Cambodia?
Again, it is putting in place the building blocks for our relationship. We are celebrating 40 years with ASEAN and reflecting on the past and also building the foundation for the future.
We have a lot of faith in this country and optimism, and we see the young people the energy and the mood here in Phnom Penh.
The air services agreement is really about providing the framework for air services to take place. Then we need the demand.
I don’t think we will see direct flights immediately, but our airline, Air New Zealand, has an alliance with Singapore Airlines and Silk Air.
So what we can see is a partnership that enables New Zealanders to buy a ticket to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and fly via Singapore.
That will help stimulate demand. It is a small step but an important step.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.