Industrial leaders and exporters have commended the approval of the draft on waterway transportation, recognising its potential to reduce production costs and enhance the competitiveness of the logistics sector.

The National Assembly (NA) ratified the draft law in an extraordinary session on March 1, which received backing from 97 members, enabling the progression to subsequent phases.

An NA statement detailed that the legislation aims to regulate and advance the country’s waterway and port sector. 

It said the law is targeted at maintaining order and ensuring the safety and security of waterway transport, while fostering infrastructure development, environmental protection, investment opportunities and fair competition, ultimately supporting both national and international trade for economic growth.

“Cambodia boasts an array of beaches and waterways including rivers, lakes, streams and creeks. These facilitate navigation and connect a vast network of waterways, offering significant potential for domestic and international waterway transport,” said the NA.

It continued that the sector is crucial in promoting socio-economic development, fostering opportunities for domestic and international investors, enhancing employment and improving the living standards of residents, particularly those along coasts and waterways.

Minister of Public Works and Transport Peng Ponea, in a consultation with the NA’s Ninth Commission chaired by Nin Saphon in February, highlighted the imperative need for managing the sector. 

He stated that the government had tasked the ministry with the responsibility of drafting the legislation.

Ponea noted that the law underwent thorough review and amendments, incorporating vital inputs from professional and political dialogues with relevant ministries and institutions.

“The government is confident that the enactment of this law will provide a comprehensive legal framework. It will ensure the effective and sustainable management of ships, crews, ports and waterway infrastructure related to the waterway transport sector,” Ponea stated.

He added that the law would create job opportunities for sailors on international and domestic voyages, stimulate investment in water transport and encourage the establishment of shipping companies, navigation services, shipyards for shipbuilding and repair, port facilities and crew training institutions.

Ponea emphasised that the law would not only encourage the active use of waterways but also alleviate the burden on road infrastructure, in a shift expected to reduce state expenses on road repair and maintenance.

He highlighted the significance of the statute in promoting multi-modal transport connectivity.

He said this approach is a key component of the government’s Comprehensive Master Plan on the Cambodian Inter-Modal Transport and Logistics System for 2023-33, which aligns with the country’s commitments as a member of international organisations in the field of water transport.

Sin Chanthy, president of the Cambodia Logistics Association (CLA), told The Post that the waterway bill’s approval marked a crucial step towards diversifying transportation methods and lowering costs.

“Waterways are a significant mode of transport as they are more economical than land and air transport. Currently, we primarily use two main ports – Sihanoukville Autonomous Port [PAS] and Phnom Penh Autonomous Port [PAPP]. Approximately 70% of our transport utilises the Sihanoukville [port] due to its cost-effectiveness and capacity for heavy goods transportation,” he stated.

“I urge the government to expand and improve waterway infrastructure, as this will enhance the country’s logistics development. The government is currently planning a canal linking the Funan River to the sea,” Chanthy added.

Song Saran, president and CEO of Amru Rice (Cambodia), a leading rice milling and exporting company, concurred with Chanthy’s remarks, stating that improved waterway transport would reduce production costs, ease road congestion and enable the transportation of large quantities of rice.

“For us, as rice exporters, cost-effective waterway transport is crucial. It helps in reducing our production costs,” Saran said.

“This development will also facilitate rice transportation from various provinces and enable direct shipments from [PPAP] to Vietnam and other ASEAN countries. If we enhance our waterway system, it could become a primary transport method within Asia, especially for direct shipments to China,” he added.

Currently, the government is initiating the Funan Techo Canal project. Spanning 180km, the $1.7 billion project will connect the Takeo canal on the Mekong River to the coastal province of Kep, traversing four provinces: Kandal (bordering the capital), Takeo, Kampot and Kep.