Cambodia and five other countries that share the Mekong River have agreed to open their borders to more commercial truck and tourist bus traffic as part of a transnational agreement aimed at promoting regional logistics and tourism, a senior transport official said yesterday.
Transport officials from the six member states of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) – which includes Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and southern China – met in Bangkok last week to hammer out new quotas under the Cross-Border Transport Facilitation Agreement (CBTA). Under the revised framework, each country except Myanmar will have a quota of 500 cross-border permits for trucks and tourist buses by the end of the year.
“We are now on the plan, and we are now studying its issues and mechanism,” said Chan Dara, director-general of the transport department at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. “We will bring our issues on vehicle safety and controlling the cross-border flow of illegal goods to the table at the next meeting.”
Cambodia, which became a signatory of the GMS CBTA in 2001, currently already has a quota of 500 vehicles with Vietnam under a bilateral agreement. However, its existing bilateral quota with Thailand of just 40 commercial trucks and tourist buses has been in place since 2002.
The revised quotas will be put into effect on December 1, according to the Bangkok Post.
“Before Dec 1, each country has to fine tune details about international transport and deal with some complicated issues,” the newspaper quoted Thai Transport Minister Arkhom Tempittayapaisith as saying.
Dara, however, disputed this date, arguing that the agreement calls for the revised quotas to start on January 1, 2017.
Chem Chomnan, president of the Cambodian Bus Association (CAMBA), said the regional transport agreement was “fair and balanced”, and beneficial for both commercial and passenger transport.
He said the new quota with Thailand will increase the number of buses licensed for cross-border trips, improving costs and services for consumers and encouraging more travel.
“We expect the number of middle-class tourists in particular to increase as they like to come [to Cambodia] by bus and save on the cost of a flight,” he said.
Chomnan expressed concern, however, that Thai transport companies with lower fuel costs and better equipment could end up dominating the local market.
“Our challenge is the shortage of capital, and we’re concerned that we cannot compete with [Thai companies] as when the quality of the bus is different we will lose customers,” he said.
He urged the government to support local tourist bus companies by reducing taxes on the purchase of new vehicles, noting that neighbouring countries subsidise or offer tax exemptions to their private sector transport companies.