Officials in Thailand’s Trat province are hopeful for a rebound in cross-border trade with Cambodia’s Koh Kong province this year. The optimism follows a downturn in 2023 and is inspired by recent commitments from both countries’ leaders to enhance bilateral trade.

Natthawut Saradan, assistant chief of Klongyai Customs House at the Hat Lek border point opposite Koh Kong, was quoted by Thai media as saying that trade between the two provinces in the previous fiscal year totalled 31.8 billion baht ($879.1 million), a decrease from 33.9 billion baht ($937.1 million) in the 2022 fiscal year, which begins on October 1 annually.

He reported that trade through the checkpoint from October to December 2023, marking the first quarter of the current fiscal year, exceeded 6.8 billion baht ($187.9 million). 

According to Saradan, the volume is predicted to increase for the remainder of the fiscal year, with monthly averages expected to be at least 2.9 billion baht ($80.16 million).

Koh Kong governor Mithona Phuthong could not be reached for comment on February 15.

Ky Sereyrath, an economics researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, noted that the country’s trade remains robust despite economic challenges.

“As ASEAN neighbours, we have numerous trade mechanisms to enhance our cross-border trade. Our agricultural products continue to rely heavily on exports to neighbouring countries. Currently, we have yet to attract sufficient investment in food processing for other markets,” he said.

Thitidet Thongpat, deputy chairman of the Koh Kong Special Economic Zone (SEZ), highlighted the zone’s important role in increasing trans-border trade volumes, according to Thai media. 

He said goods produced in the zone, owned by Thai investors, are exported to Thailand via border conduits in Trat, thereby enhancing commerce between the two countries.

Prime Minister Hun Manet, speaking at the Cambodia-Thailand Business Forum in Bangkok during his recent state visit, encouraged Thai investors and businesspeople to explore four key untapped sectors in Cambodia: tourism, digital economy, infrastructure development and agriculture. 

Manet emphasised the potential for collaboration in the travel sector, highlighting that both countries, with their unique cultural and natural assets, have the capability to transform the industry into a thriving area of economic growth.

“I strongly encourage Thai investors to explore business opportunities in Cambodia. The success of Thai companies, such as CP Cambodia, a subsidiary of CPF [Charoen Pokphand Foods], in our agro-industrial and food industry sectors, underscores the potential for further collaboration,” he said. 

Kith Meng, president of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC), stated at the forum that bilateral trade has seen substantial growth since 2004, rising from $750 million to over $9 billion in 2022. 

He noted that during the visit of Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin to Cambodia last September, both governments committed to strengthening economic relations with the aim of increasing cross-border trade to $15 billion by 2025.

“Thai companies have significantly penetrated various Cambodian industries. In agriculture, they are deeply involved in rice, corn, cassava and rubber production, which contributes to Cambodia’s agricultural output and export earnings. Thailand has also invested in processing and packaging facilities for these products,” he added.

According to the General Department of Customs and Excise (GDCE), imports from Thailand mainly consist of refined fuels, beverages, livestock and vehicles, while exports to Thailand primarily include precious stones, fruits and vegetables and metal products.

The Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) reported that Thailand’s investment in Cambodia has accumulated to approximately $1.6 billion, ranking it among the top 10 foreign financiers.