Khmer Times was granted an opportunity to visit the site of Japan’s Kobe-Osaka International Port Corporation and visit Japanese logistics firm Kamigumi’s container terminal office in late February to learn how they have successfully operated for the last six years.
Speaking to port operation employees and officials from the Ministry of Land of Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), all of them shared their best experiences in managing the Kingdom’s Port of Sihanoukville (PAS).
Asked how the Kobe- Osaka Port management facilitates the sharing of professional skills to its Cambodian partner, they said Cambodians are smart enough to learn from Japanese experts.
“I think it will take about three years for us to train Cambodian workers to be crane drivers and to be professional,” said the Director- General Kobe Port Office MLIT Takeshi Okutani.
Regarding revenue-making, Kobe-Osaka’s General- Manager of the Business Development Department hopes the PAS’ growth will be fast and operations will be successful in the region.
“I understand that the port poses a lot of benefits in terms of logistics, so the national government can try to increase export and stimulate trade,” he said, as he expressed hopes the number of containers coming through the port will increase in the future.
“Phase 1 of the container terminals will be completed by 2023. It will take about four years to complete Phase 2. By 2030, Phase 3 will hopefully be finished,” he added.
However, the project has hit a snag this year with the emergence of the global novel coronavirus pandemic.
In Phnom Penh, several industries recently noticed a slowing down in the progress of the joint development project. Despite this, they remain sure its progress will pick up once the pandemic has abated.
Ouk Reaksmey, Japan International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) senior programme officer for Infrastructure Division, told Khmer Times that he hopes all Japanese-assisted projects will see good progress, as he claimed the COVID-19 does not seem to pose any lasting serious impact on the project.
All of the Japanese experts, he said, have left the Kingdom by April. Nevertheless, he said JICA experts and the port management have been keeping communication lines open via social media platforms.
Mr. Reaksmey said the long-term investment between PAS and Kobe-Osaka International Port Corporation continues as usual but for the temporary halt in the provision of expert assistance.
“I think all of JICA’s projects in Cambodia are still ongoing. We are only hitting a pause with the training and some assistance from Japanese experts because of the coronavirus,” said Mr Reaksmey.
Recently, he said, PAS is requesting JICA for new experts to help in assisting with the port’s development project since the previous ones finished their assignment and returned to Japan.
Khmer Times in August 2017 reported JICA’s signing of an agreement which sought to provide a low-interest loan of about $214 million for a new container terminal project at the Sihanoukville Port in a bid to improve the Kingdom’s logistics and promote trade.
The new container terminal is scheduled to open in October 2023, boosting the PAS’ container cargo-handling capacity by about 450,000 TEU, or more than 50 percent from its current capacity.
Last year, JICA sold all its shares in PAS to Japanese logistics firm Kamigumi. JICA, who acquired PAS shares during the port’s initial public offering (IPO) in 2017, sold 2.5 percent of its stake in the Cambodian port to Kobe-Osaka International Port Corporation the following year, bringing its stake in PAS to 11 percent.
According to Mr Reaksmey, the completion of the development project will make Sihanoukville city the second-largest development city after Phnom Penh. With the recent infrastructure development in Sihanoukville – from buildings, roads and airport to hotels, resorts and beaches – we can imagine how bright the future of Sihanoukville will be,” said Mr Reaksmey.
Ministry of Public Works and Transport spokesman Va Simsorya likewise said COVID-19 has not brought any major impact to the project’s progress. “We have been holding meetings online via Telegram. Cooperation between Japan and Cambodia continues,” said Mr Simsorya. “Japanese projects in Cambodia won’t fail because all projects have already been assessed properly.” Mr Simsorya said despite fewer Japanese private investments in the Kingdom as compared with other foreign investments such as China, Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) for public infrastructures, such as road and bridges, are still significantly.
The government projects Sihanoukville to be the second economic city through the development of tourism and the improvement of international trade facilities. While acknowledging the presence of COVID-19 can dampen trade volume, Mr Simsorya said the government and all stakeholders have been expanding efforts to keep the Kingdom’s economy stable.
“We are not sure how long before the pandemic is eliminated, however, we still hope that one day, Sihanoukville will become a highly-developed city and possibly the ‘next Hong Kong’ with the full support of our citizens,” he said. Ms Chey Sokunthea, PAS marketing director, likewise said it is business as usual at the port as PAS and Kobe-Osaka International Port Cooperation look into rolling out the first phase of the container terminal project. “We expect over one million [TEU] containers will be coming through Sihanoukville Autonomous Port annually by 2024,” she said.
The government has designated the port as an industrial development zone, posing great potential in expanding trade between Cambodia and other countries in ASEAN region, Asia- Pacific rim and the rest of the world.
The PAS in 2017 entered into an IPO to further improve its business prospects, netting nearly $27 million for the purchase of land and equipment for expansion of Cambodia’s imports or exports transported by sea, 90 percent go through the Sihanoukville port.