Sun Chanthol, Deputy Prime Minister and first vice-president of the CDC posted on his Facebook page, “The government views the Fish and Rice Corridor … as a significant economic axis. These regions are recognised for their agricultural potential, notably in rice cultivation and fisheries products”.

Former Prime Minister Hun Sen announced in March that the government has designated four provinces – Pursat, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Pailin – as Cambodia’s fourth economic pole. The designation came in response to the growth of the agricultural sector and fish population.

“The fourth economic pole is an initiative between Chinese president Xi Jinping and I. The project focuses on the Fish and Rice Corridor because the four provinces have an abundance of [both],” he said at the time.

In mid-September, Cambodia and China entered into a cooperation agreement that targets the development of various sectors, including agricultural aquaculture and processing, ecology, modern machinery, new technologies and human resources.

Agriculture minister Dith Tina met with his Chinese counterpart Tang Renjian and a delegation in Nanning, China. The discussion focused on strategies to effectively and beneficially implement the fish and rice belt in both countries.

Both parties agreed to establish an orientation committee, headed by the deputy ministers from each of the two ministries, and a joint technical working group. The group will be responsible for developing action plans to implement the policies laid out by the top leaders of the two countries.

He requested technical support from China, aiming to promote three key products within the corridor – rice, cashew nuts and fish – to facilitate their export to Chinese and other international markets.

“I would like to encourage Chinese investors, particularly those with strong marketing skills and techniques, to invest in Cambodia’s agricultural sector. This includes the processing and packaging of existing agricultural products to transform them into high-quality, delicious and internationally recognised products,” he added.

The fish and rice corridor initiative aims to enhance agricultural trade between the two countries, focusing on products like fish, rice, tropical fruits, vegetables and various agricultural inputs including fertilisers, pesticides and animal feed, as per the ministry.

Lim Heng, vice-president of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC), believes that the channel represents a new frontier for the country’s farming exports to China. He acknowledged that this initiative is in its nascent stages and might require time to show results, yet he sees it as a promising development for the sector.

“In the past, China has shown interest in a range of 12 aquaculture products. This includes both freshwater and saltwater varieties, including freshwater prawns, lobsters, eels, shrimp, snails and other high-quality sea fish,” he explained.

Hong Vannak, an economist at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that the four provinces have the potential for development and benefit from the Tonle Sap basin which is abundant in fishery resources.

“The next step is to consider how we can expand production and process these products to a standard that allows for export, in addition to meeting domestic demand,” he added.