Cambodia and other ASEAN member states on June 2 concluded negotiations with the EU on the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA), which is set to become the first ever bloc-to-bloc accord aimed at improving air connectivity between and beyond ASEAN and the EU when it comes into effect.

The final meeting to conclude the talks was held virtually and co-chaired by Ministry of Public Works and Transport director-general for Logistics Chheang Pich.

Pich hailed the conclusion of talks as the “achievement of an important task” for the Kingdom, saying: “This is the effort of all relevant officials in this work, I am very proud of this endeavour as a Cambodian.”

The EU remains ASEAN’s third largest trading partner after China and the US, and accounts for about 10.6 per cent of Southeast Asian bloc’s trade, according to the European Commission (EC). And ASEAN is also the EU’s third largest trading partner outside Europe, after China and the US.

The bloc-to-bloc goods trade was to the tune of more than €189.47 billion ($230 billion) last year, while bilateral trade in services clocked in at €93.5 billion in 2019.

In 2019, EU foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into ASEAN were €313.6 billion, and ASEAN FDI stocks into the EU amounted to €144 billion, the EC reported.

“The EU’s main exports to ASEAN are chemical products, machinery and transport equipment. The main imports from ASEAN to the EU are machinery and transport equipment, agricultural products as well as textiles and clothing,” it said.

Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan emphasised that the agreement would expand the currently limited number of direct flights to the EU, noting that China and South Korea account for the majority of air routes to the Kingdom.

“One of the shortcomings in the tourism industry is that flight connections are still limited. In the past, we relied heavily on the countries around us,” he said. But “depending on others means losing competitiveness in the tourism sector”.

“As I see it, if the government can connect Cambodia to Europe or major European cities with direct flights, that’d be a godsend for Cambodia, given the EU’s huge market, with the potential for Cambodian agricultural and industrial goods,” Sinan said.

The Kingdom exported $17.21537 billion worth of goods last year, up by 16.72 per cent from $14.74874 billion in 2019. The EU ranked as the second largest market after the US, buying Cambodian merchandise to the tune of $3.20387 billion, down by 17.73 per cent, the Ministry of Commerce reported.

And according to Ministry of Tourism data published on May 13, Cambodia welcomed just 70,901 International tourist arrivals in the first quarter of this year, down by 93.9 per cent from 1,155,226 in January-March 2020, as the global Covid-19 pandemic prolonged. Last year, Cambodia welcomed 1,306,143 international tourists, down by 80.2 per cent from 6,610,592 in 2019.