With the third Cambodia-Turkey Joint Economic Commission (JEC) meeting approaching, local business players and observers are contemplating the export and investment opportunities within the transcontinental nation, which is seen as a strategically-placed gateway for domestic firms to penetrate into EU and other nearby markets.

In preparation, the Ministry of Commerce on January 5 led a key discussion to fine-tune the agenda for the JEC meeting – to be held in Phnom Penh on January 10-11.

The gathering focused on how to best benefit from Cambodia-Turkey bilateral relations, in line with the post-Covid-19 economic recoveries of both nations, according to a ministry statement.

To that end, participants discussed a draft joint memorandum that covered several priority areas, including trade, investment, business, industry, science, technology and innovation, halal affairs, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME), agriculture, transportation, civil aviation, health, education and tourism, it said.

These were the same priority areas mentioned by the ministry following a similar discussion on August 24.

At the time, the ministry said that the JEC meeting would be held in October, just weeks before the dual ASEAN summits – seen as the most important series of meetings in Cambodia’s 2022 chairmanship of the bloc – were to be held in Phnom Penh. However, the statement did not address the apparent rescheduling.

The January 5 gathering was presided over by commerce ministry secretary of state Tekreth Kamrang and attended by representatives of 14 ministries and institutions, the statement added.

Speaking to The Post on January 8, Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) vice-president Lim Heng hailed Turkey as a promising market for Cambodian goods and a potential springboard to access other European and Asian markets.

The JEC meeting will be attended by Turkish government leaders as well as major business players and trade association representatives from the Eurasian country, many of whom are also set to meet the CCC on the sidelines and explore avenues to boost bilateral trade, he revealed.

He voiced expectations for marked improvements in bilateral trade and cooperation going forward, on the back of momentum created by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Turkey in 2018, during which a number of deals reflecting those objectives were signed.

Heng took the occasion to recount a CCC trip to Turkey early last year, accompanying Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn to the inauguration of the Cambodian embassy in Ankara – which the Turkish foreign ministry notes was established in October 2020.

At meetings held with trade association and company representatives at the time, the CCC delegation shined the spotlight on Cambodian products deemed suitable for export to Turkey as well as investment opportunities in the Kingdom, he said.

Of note, the foreign ministry identified one of these trade associations as the Ankara-based Industrialist Businesswomen and Businessmen Confederation (SANKON).

It also reported that Sokhonn and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on February 27 signed an “Agreement on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion”, during the trip.

The ministry stated that the third JEC meeting will seek to map out practical steps towards reaching the ambitious goal of at least $1 billion in annual bilateral trade between Cambodia and Turkey, by leveraging the economic potential of both countries.

Hong Vanak, director of International Economics at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, commented that, given its position as a “developed country” and its relations with the EU, ramping up cooperation with Turkey could expand the Kingdom’s export footprint, especially across Europe.

The JEC meeting will trigger an uptick in sales of Cambodian goods to Turkey, he said with a note of confidence, pointing out that the predominantly Islamic country provides preferential trade benefits for the Kingdom.

Commerce ministry figures show that trade between the two countries has remained fairly limited over the years, reaching just $462.63 million in the five years from 2017-2021, with 2021 alone accounting for $90.63 million, up 2.06 per cent over 2020. The annual average from 2017-2019 was a bit higher at $94.4 million.

In January-November 2022, the bilateral trade volume came in at $136.149 million, up 63.6 per cent year-on-year.

Major Cambodian exports to Turkey comprise garments, textiles, footwear, travel goods and milled rice, while key imports include machinery, pharmaceuticals, glass panels, iron and steel, and plastics, according to the ministry.