Australia launched the Cambodian component of the Mekong-Australia Partnership (MAP) initiative to strengthen Cambodia’s economic recovery, environmental resilience and human resource development.

The launch took place following a bilateral meeting between Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn and Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women Marise Payne on November 8 as part of her two day diplomatic visit to Cambodia.

The MAP is an A$232 million (US$170 million) initiative focused on the five countries of the Mekong sub-region – Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.

It was announced by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Australian-ASEAN summit in November 2020 according to the Australian embassy in Cambodia’s press release on November 9.

“[MAP will] strengthen economic recovery, environmental resilience and human capacity, with a particular focus on bridging the development gap between ASEAN member states,” it said.

The project will establish “Mekong Water Solutions” – a new hub to strengthen nationwide water resource management that will develop models for Cambodia’s fifteen main river systems and partner to improve the quality of hundreds of millions of dollars in water infrastructure, providing farmers and cities with greater water security in a more variable and difficult climate.

The project will also support Cambodia’s first renewable energy strategy, which sets out the role of renewable energy in Cambodia’s energy market. It will also fund the expansion of solar mini-grids for remote village communities currently unable to connect to the national grid.

The programme will also partner to develop agro-industrial parks to kickstart the food processing sector in Cambodia, helping to diversify the economy with other sectors under strain.

Furthermore, MAP will commence a consumer protection partnership between Cambodia’s Ministry of Commerce and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to implement the Kingdom’s new consumer protection law, giving Cambodians more protections against risks such as fake pharmaceuticals, pyramid schemes and misleading advertising.

The initiative will provide ten more scholarships annually for Cambodians to study in Australia, as well as short courses on priority policy topics, such as attracting productive foreign investment while managing critical infrastructure risks.

Thong Mengdavid, research fellow at the Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies of the Asian Vision Institute, told The Post on November 10 that under MAP the Kingdom will receive technical assistance as well as financing from the Australian government which will enhance relations between the two countries and help improve the Cambodian economy and the capacity of its people in the future.

He said that in August the Australian government signed a memorandum of understandi​​ng with the Ministry of Economy on the “Cambodia-Australia Agricultural Value Chain”.

Now, he said, the Supreme National Economic Council is all set to establish Agri-Food Industrial Parks to support the agricultural sector and improve the quality and value of Cambodian agricultural products for export.

“Payne’s productive and helpful visit to Cambodia is a testament to the 70 years of good relations between our two countries and Australia’s commitment to Cambodia’s development and their support for Cambodia in its role as the chair of ASEAN next year,” Mengdavid said.