A draft law authorising ratification of the ASEAN Trade in Services Agreement (ATISA), which is expected to reinforce economic ties between members of the Southeast Asian bloc, was unanimously approved by the National Assembly’s (NA) ninth commission on May 23.

This comes 25 days after the draft law cleared the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) on April 28. The bill will now be referred to a future NA plenary session for consideration. If approved, the document will be forwarded to the Senate for review, after which it will be returned to the NA to be promulgated with a signature from King Norodom Sihamoni, or acting head of state.

Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak on May 23 led the team defending the bill before the NA’s ninth commission.

The minister argued that the ATISA aspires to improve economic connectivity and offer brighter development prospects in the ASEAN Economic Community as well as remove barriers to trade in services to broaden markets and boost trade and investment.

He said the agreement also sets out to strengthen economic ties among ASEAN nations; support equitable, balanced and sustainable socio-economic development while bridging related intraregional gaps; underpin greater inclusion of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSME) in trade and services; and promote regulatory and human-resource cooperation.

In response, chairwoman Nin Saphon said the ninth commission found that the bill was “properly” drafted in compliance with the requirements of the Constitution, laws and relevant legal norms, in line with the 2018-2023 Rectangular Strategy Phase IV.

The commission is formally known as the Commission of Public Works, Transport, Telecommunication, Post, Industry, Mines, Energy, Commerce, Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction.

The Royal Government has made substantial changes to Cambodia’s investment and trade laws in recent years, and established a number of free trade agreements (FTA), including one with China (CCFTA), another with South Korea (CKFTA) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), all of which have accelerated economic growth in the Kingdom.

In the Kingdom, the CCFTA, CKFTA and RCEP all took effect last year, the pact with South Korea on December 1 and the others on January 1. The 15-nation RCEP is the world’s largest trade pact, encompassing Cambodia, China, South Korea, the nine other ASEAN member states, and three additional Asia-Pacific countries.

Provisional Customs (GDCE) statistics reveal that the Kingdom’s international trade volume reached $15.161 billion in the first four months of 2023, sliding by 14.10 per cent year-on-year.

The Kingdom’s imports and exports totalled $7.927 billion and $7.234 billion, respectively, down 21.07 per cent and down 4.89 per cent year-on-year, narrowing its trade deficit by 71.57 per cent on an annual basis to $692.796 million in the January-April period.