Prime Minister Hun Sen has called for Cambodia and Saudi Arabia to step up cooperation in economic sectors and other areas in the Southeast Asian Kingdom with lucrative prospects.

Hun Sen made the remark at a meeting with Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud on March 18 during the latter’s official visit to Cambodia, according to a statement posted on the premier’s Facebook page.

Prince Faisal told the prime minister that his latest visit to Cambodia was meant to strengthen bilateral ties and cooperation, primarily through talks with his counterpart Prak Sokhonn, the statement noted.

The top Saudi diplomat highlighted that tourism, technology, energy, education, culture and agriculture have significant room for bilateral cooperation, and asked Hun Sen for support for partnerships in these areas.

The prime minister agreed, saying he would welcome and encourage more cooperation in all areas with perceived potential – especially tourism, agriculture and trade.

Prince Faisal also met with his counterpart on March 18, the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said in a separate statement.

“The two foreign ministers agreed that both countries have not yet explored all of their existing cooperation potentials and had the common commitment to further strengthen and broaden the scope of their bilateral cooperation,” it said.

Sokhonn underscored to his Saudi counterpart that Cambodia has promising economic opportunities, underpinned by a “favourable” new investment law, as well as “several” free trade agreements (FTA) that the country has entered into, notably the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that came into effect on January 1.

He asked Prince Faisal to encourage Saudi businesspeople to invest in Cambodia in a number of “key areas”, listing agriculture, tourism and renewable energy as examples.

“He also expressed interest in Saudi Arabia’s experience and expertise in oil and gas production and asked for scholarships on oil and gas engineering training,” the statement said.

Sokhonn suggested Riyadh consider buying Cambodian agricultural goods and share their experiences and insights on the production process of halal food, or food permissible under Islamic Law as defined in the religion’s holy book, the Quran.

For context, annual bilateral trade between the two countries has been very limited albeit with a tilt in Saudi Arabia’s favour, edging ever closer to $20 million and rising over a fifth between 2019 and 2020, according to Trading Economics. Cambodian exports to and imports from Saudi Arabia in 2020 were to the tune of $3.1 million and $15.92 million, respectively.

The latest figures on the statistics website indicate that in 2020, “cereals” accounted for

$2.05 million or about two-thirds of Cambodia’s exports, while “plastics” made up $14.24 million or nearly nine-tenths of the Kingdom’s imports.

Sokhonn also weighed in on education cooperation and “the exchange of diplomatic skills between the institutes of diplomacy of both countries”.

He encouraged Riyadh to consider signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Tourism Cooperation with Cambodia and to promptly make a decision on a bilateral MoU on Scientific and Educational Cooperation.

The top diplomats “shared the same views on the establishment of a mechanism for bilateral cooperation”, especially regular consultations between the two foreign ministries, the statement said.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said on March 20 that Cambodia-Saudi Arabia ties are not yet deep – neither Kingdom has established an embassy in the other.

“Both countries desperately need to grow their cooperation significantly, because there are a lot of potential benefits for such cooperation. We know that Saudi Arabia is one of the most important of the Arab countries. A close relationship with Saudi Arabia would be a boost to Cambodia’s diversity of diplomacy,” he said.

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest oil-exporting countries in the world – so human resource training in the industrial sector from them would be of enormous benefit to Cambodia, he added.