The Ministry of Commerce and the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) kicked off the 3rd Joint Working Group Meeting on September 7 to pave the way for formal negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) between Cambodia and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

The ministry said in a statement that the two-day virtual meeting was chaired by its secretary of state Tek Reth Kamrong and co-chaired by Sergey Glazyev, the EEC Board member (minister) in charge of integration and macroeconomics, and attended by senior officials from other ministries and institutions. The EEC is the executive body of the EAEU.

The commerce ministry said the meeting was intended to review and monitor the progress of cooperation, a 2016 memorandum of understanding (MoU) and other agreements reached between the two sides.

Additionally, the meeting explored potential opportunities to support and strengthen recent developments in cooperation between the two sides, it added.

The agenda covered a number of key areas, including trade and investment cooperation, the energy industry and infrastructure, science and technology, innovation, digital developments, information and communication technology, technical trade barriers and regulations, customs, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, intellectual property, consumer protection and competition.

First held in the Kingdom in 2017 and then the following year in Russia, the joint working group meetings are organised under the framework of the MoU, signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2016.

The MoU purports to yield new trade and economic cooperation opportunities between Cambodian and the five EAEU countries – Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, relying on what the document terms principles of equality, transparency, good faith and mutual respect.

The memorandum presents the ultimate goals of cooperation within its framework as – the development of a comprehensive cooperative system and efficient trade with limited barriers.

Ministry undersecretary of state Pen Sovicheat told The Post in July that the relevant ministries are pushing to wrap up the preliminary phase of FTA talks and start formal negotiations as soon as possible, with Russia as mediator.

The EAEU is home to 184.6 million people and represents a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $4.778 trillion, according to International Monetary Fund estimates for 2020.

Bilateral trade between Cambodia and the EAEU was worth $67.37 million last year, increasing by 18.22 per cent over $56.98 million in 2019, according to data from the commerce ministry.

The Kingdom’s exports accounted for $52.19 million, marking a 0.73 per cent year-on-year rise from $51.81 million in 2019, and imports stood at $15.18 million, rocketing by 193.57 per cent from $5.17 million.

These number indicate that Cambodia’s trade surplus with the EAEU narrowed by nearly 21 per cent, from nearly $46.65 to $37.0 million.

Notable Cambodian exports to the EAEU include garments, footwear, milled rice, coffee, tea, fruits, vegetables, spices, tobacco, silk, rubber and furniture.