Cambodia and Thailand are in talks to open more border gates to import and export agricultural products after the two countries largely closed their borders amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Held on Tuesday on the Thai side of the border, the Cambodian delegation was led by Banteay Meanchey provincial governor Um Reatrey and Border Affairs Office deputy director Pich Vanna. The Thai side was led by Sa Kaeo provincial governor Woraphan Suwannus.
Vanna, who also heads the Cambodia-Thailand border liaison bureau, told The Post on Wednesday that despite the border closure, transport of products between the two countries has continued, albeit at a smaller scale.
He said products are allowed to be transported by heavy vehicles, while transportation by carts has been banned.
Border checkpoints that remain open for transaction include O’Smach, Poipet and Doung, which he said are too far from where Cambodian traders reside. To ease their difficulties, he said Cambodia has requested the Thai side to reopen more international checkpoints such as Phnom Dei, Malai and O’Snguot.
He said Cambodian traders mostly export cassava.
“A few weeks ago, senior [Thai] officials announced the closure of all the border gates except the Poipet checkpoint, where transactions continue as usual.
“Before, there was no cassava transportation through Poipet as it is too far from where Cambodian traders live. Cassava is normally transported through the Phnom Dei and Malai checkpoints, among others.
“Currently, the Doung and Lem checkpoints are also opened but it is still too far, so our people also suggested Thailand open other gateways such as Sampov Loun in Battambang province.
“Following the border closure, cassava transportation is stuck in a jam. We want the Thai side to facilitate the transportation of our agricultural products such as cassava, but they haven’t decided yet,” he said.
Vanna said Cambodia is also considering Thailand’s request to export its agricultural and husbandry products such as pigs.
“No decision has been made. We need to wait for other new negotiations to get through first,” he said.
He said the Thai side will refer Cambodia’s request to export cassava to its Ministry of Commerce.
The Tuesday meeting also touched on Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand.
Reatrey told reporters after the meeting that Thailand had asked Cambodian authorities to facilitate the return of workers as both countries sought to prevent the coronavirus spreading.
He said while Cambodia has suggested Boeung Trakuon and O’Bei Choan checkpoints in Banteay Meanchey province’s O’Chrov district as the ideal gateways, Thailand has agreed in principle to open O’Bei Choan, which shares its border in the area of Kouk Thchoung village.
Vanna said around 60,000 Cambodian migrant workers have returned from Thailand.
Rights group Adhoc provincial coordinator Sum Chankea said the ongoing negotiations would benefit both countries. However, he said Thailand stands to gain more from the border reopening.
“For us to boost economic development, business transactions have to continue as usual. Without such transactions, how can people survive?
“The Thais can freely export a lot of products to Cambodia while there are restrictions on the flow of Cambodian products into that country.
“I call for fair and equal transactions between both parties. Thailand imposes restrictions on Cambodian products but freely exports their products to the Kingdom. How is that fair?” he asked.