Cambodia Ambassador to Thailand Ouk Sorphorn, in a discussion with Khmer Times, stressed the important role economic diplomacy is playing in both developing countries in general and the Kingdom in particular.
Cambodia, like other developing nations, has been under immense pressure from the Coronavirus pandemic but has also been vulnerable to the rise of global protectionist and unilateralist driven instincts and policies as the world economic order shifts.
He added that economic diplomacy is particularly important here because it can influence whether the large capital needs that support the diversification of economic growth and the drive towards achieving Cambodia’s vision for an upgrade in income status can be satisfied. The Kingdom has set its sights on becoming a high-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050.
The ambassador said in 2018 Deputy Prime Minister Prak Sokhonn officially declared for the first time that an economic diplomacy focused on trade, investment, culture and tourism was one of the major tasks of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Currently, the Cambodian embassy in Thailand provides business consulting services to Thai and foreign businessmen who wish to invest or expand the market in Cambodia, he added.
“We also strive to collaborate and negotiate with major supermarkets such as BigC and CP ALL (7-Eleven retail store operators) to purchase Cambodian products for sale in Thailand. In addition, we are working to establish the Cambodia Business Council (CBC), which will act as a business council in Bangkok to further promote and facilitate bilateral trade and investment between the two countries,” Sorphorn said.
He added that, over the past five years, bilateral trade between Cambodia and Thailand rose from $5.6 billion in 2015 to $9 billion in 2019. Bilateral trade volume between the two nations in 2020 is expected to reach approximately $7 billion, down 22 percent from 2019, a figure of relative strength, given the pandemic. This reflected the commitment of the countries’ leaderships in promoting economic and trade cooperation, regardless of the situation.
Sorphorn highlighted the importance of the 2019 reconnecting of the rail network linking the two nations after more than 40 years of failing to do so. The rail link has played an important role in boosting trade and facilitating the transportation of goods between Cambodia and Thailand, but also contributed to increased connectivity with other ASEAN members and nations in the Greater Mekong sub-region.
In addition, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha, inaugurated the Ban Nong Ian-Stung Bot Friendship Bridge, which connects Banteay Meanchey to Sa Kaeo province. The bridge’s opening was a turning point in the history of Cambodia and Thailand in facilitating better cross-border trade, the transportation of goods and people-to-people contacts.
“Thailand has been on the list of the largest foreign direct investors in Cambodia for many years. Currently, many Thai franchises are thriving in Cambodia. Amazon Cafe, among other restaurants, bakeries and businesses have flourished with the support of both Cambodians and expats,” he said.
“This year, I plan to [work in support of making] some Cambodian products available in the Thai market. We have the Cambodian Business Council as a [foundation from which we can] promote and coordinate these activities. The Cambodian embassy will work to promote the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Cambodian Business Council Center and major supermarket companies in both Thailand and Cambodia. Therefore, Cambodian goods will be able to be sold in Thai supermarkets and Thai goods will be easier to import into the Cambodian market,” said the ambassador.
Cambodia launched its Economic Diplomacy Strategy 2021-2023 (EDS) policy tool this month in support of the nation’s efforts to expand international trade, attract foreign direct investment, promote tourism and Cambodian culture and enhance national competitiveness. The EDS will establish a synergistic link between Cambodian foreign policy and diplomacy and national economic development.