The hotly anticipated Bassac-Kep river navigation and logistics system, a first-of-its-kind waterway transportation project in Cambodia, has been named the “Funan Techo Canal”, according to the minutes of a May 19 meeting of the Council of Ministers.

The meeting went over the latest developments and details of the project. The minutes recapped that a feasibility study for the project was conducted over a 26-month period, and that the undertaking will have an estimated cost of $1.7 billion, taking four years to complete.

The 180km waterway will connect Prek Takeo of the Mekong River System to the Prek Ta Ek and Prek Ta Hing of the Bassac River System, and to Kep province, crossing Kandal, Takeo and Kampot provinces. Highlighted features include three watergates, 11 bridges and 208km of roads on either side of the waterway.

The canal is 100m wide at the upstream and 80m at downstream. It is 5.4m in depth, with 4.7m for ships. It has two lanes, enabling vessels to safely travel in opposite directions. There are around 1.6 million people living on either side of the canal.

The Cabinet described how the project will reduce travel times and distances as well as transportation costs, in addition to creating new trade hubs.

The canal will include additional subordinate ports, which are expected to expand agriculture and aquaculture development, through improved irrigation. This will support the creation of the Kingdom’s “fourth economic hub”.

It will also create additional employment opportunities at the Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh autonomous ports, among others, while driving real estate development.

“This project will be the first in history to link the Mekong River to the sea in Cambodia,” noted the minutes.

“It will expand the scope of waterway transportation, driving socio-economic activities to another level, and will provide solution to the current challenges and obstacles the transportation sector is facing.”

Cambodia’s National Mekong Committee has been tasked with maintaining contact with Mekong River Commission (MRC) member countries to ensure that the project aligns with the 1995 Mekong Agreement.

Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth has been entrusted with leading subsequent studies and preparations for the undertaking, prioritising attention to detail and reporting his findings to the head of the government.

Separately, the Cabinet also approved two draft laws: one on rules of origin and another on civil registry documents, statistics and identification.

The draft laws will be sent to the National Assembly for consideration in the near future.

Speaking at the May 19 meeting, Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak noted that the rule-of-origin bill sets rules and procedures for identifying the origins of imported and exported merchandise, and is designed to stimulate trade under and outside of preferential trading regimes.

Comprising nine chapters and 35 articles, the draft law will facilitate origin verification procedures for domestically-made goods, boost the Kingdom’s exports, and provide anti-counterfeit protections, he said.

“The draft rule-of-origin law is an addition to existing legal provisions in the commercial and economic sectors that will bring them into conformity with ASEAN and WTO [World Trade Organisation] regulations,” Sorasak explained.

The minister presented the bill as a key facet of the global legal system that complements Cambodia’s bilateral, regional and multilateral free trade agreements (FTA), such as those with China (CCFTA) and South Korea (CKFTA) as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The second draft law, on civil registry documents, statistics and identification, concerns important life events, covering the registration of births, deaths and marriages, among other things.

The existing regulatory framework governing civil registry documents, statistics and identification is limited to the sub-decree level, and does not fully reflect contemporary societal development in Cambodia, according to a press release issued on the same day by the Cabinet.

Comprising 12 chapters and 18 articles, this bill seeks to set forth precise rules and procedures in these areas to better safeguard associated rights and promote the quality of public services.

The law also aims to serve as a foundation for managing statistics, registrations, censuses and development planning, as well as to ensure a legal identify for each individual.

The press release stressed that the bill was drafted in conformity with existing laws, including those on personal status litigation and non-suit civil case proceedings, as well as the civil code.