The Phnom Penh Post | 27 February 2023
Formal close of UAE CEPA talks set for March
by Hin Pisei
A formal closing ceremony of the Cambodia-United Arab Emirates Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CAM-UAE CEPA) has been agreed for Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmed al-Zeyoudi’s visit to the Kingdom next month, after the third – and final – round of talks last week yielded what have been hailed as “delightful and satisfactory results”.
A CEPA is a type of free trade agreement (FTA) that is generally designed for a more holistic coverage beyond just commodities, and can contain provisions for services, investments, dispute resolution, intellectual property rights, government procurement, and additional forms of specialised economic cooperation.
The three rounds of formal negotiations were respectively held on October 24-25 in Abu Dhabi, December 19-21 in Phnom Penh, and February 20-22 in Dubai.
In a statement, the Ministry of Commerce said the decision on the closing ceremony was made during the third round at a February 22 plenary session led by ministry secretary of state Tekreth Kamrang and UAE Ministry of Economy assistant undersecretary for foreign trade affairs Juma Mohammed al-Kait – both chairs of their respective country’s CAM-UAE CEPA negotiation team.
It said that, as a result of the third round of talks, the two parties agreed on the deal’s text, chapters and annexes, which covered, inter alia, trade in goods; trade in services; investment; rules of origin; trade facilitation; technical barriers to trade; sanitary and phytosanitary measures; intellectual property; trade remedies; economic and technical cooperation; and legal and institutional provisions.
The deal will establish and “improve comprehensive cooperative ties between the two countries, facilitating trade flows as well as promoting bilateral investment and production chain connectivity, especially between ASEAN and the Middle East, with the aim of promoting national economic growth along with inclusive, resilient and sustainable development”, the ministry said.
Al-Zeyoudi’s working trip to the Kingdom is at the request of commerce minister Pan Sorasak, it noted, praising the negotiation teams for working with a “high level” of responsibility and flexibility to ensure a “highly effective” final round that yielded “delightful and satisfactory results”.
No estimated date was given for the official signing of the CAM-UAE CEPA, although a number of local officials have affirmed that they expect the deal to be signed by year’s end.
Hong Vanak, director of International Economics at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, believes that the CEPA will generate meaningful economic gains for the Kingdom – and potentially the agricultural export community – taking into account the wealth and prosperity enjoyed by the UAE, as well as establish the oil-and-gas-rich country as a launch pad for Cambodian goods into other Arab and nearby markets.
He suggested to The Post on February 27 that the deal would help usher investors into the Cambodian market, allowing local players a chance to learn from the UAE’s extensive experience in the oil business.
For reference, UAE has a total area of 83,600sq km, including its islands; a population of more than 10.216 million, as of February 27; and a 2022 GDP (gross domestic product) per capita of $47,793 in nominal terms, according to estimates from Dubai Civil Defence, Worldometer, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), respectively.
Ministry of Commerce undersecretary of state and spokesman Penn Sovicheat previously told The Post that the bilateral CEPA would liberalise trade to a greater level than Cambodia’s FTAs with China and South Korea.
The deal will also underline opportunities for collaboration in oil, mineral resources, meat production and agriculture, and other key areas, he said, noting that the UAE has signed CEPAs with India, Israel, and most recently, Indonesia.
He shared that the initial plan was for a more standard FTA between Cambodia and the UAE that by and large focuses on goods and services trade, investment and economic cooperation. However, more opportunities were identified after further deliberation, prompting the upgrade to a CEPA, he confirmed.
He added that the Kingdom is still exploring the vast export potential for agricultural products, textile-related items, and general components to the UAE, and by extension, the entire Middle East.
“We hope that the agreement will inspire players from Middle Eastern countries to invest in Cambodian manufacturing for export back there. Entering UAE markets is like opening a gateway for exports to regional countries, due to all the agreements between them,” Sovicheat said.
The commerce ministry reported that Cambodia-UAE trade totalled $105 million in 2022, down by 28.57 per cent from $147 million. Cambodian exports to and imports from the UAE were to the tune of $70 million and $35 million, respectively, up 34 per cent and down 63 per cent on a yearly basis.
Annual bilateral trade between the two countries increased nearly 48 per cent from $99.7 million in 2020 to $147.1 million in 2021, and had remained tilted in Cambodia’s favour in 2013-2019, until the UAE rebalanced the scales, according to Trading Economics.
Cambodian exports to and imports from the UAE in 2021 were to the tune of $52.12 million and $94.94 million, respectively, rising by 18 per cent and 70.8 per cent over the 2020 figures, the statistics website indicated.
In 2021, “articles of apparel, knit or crocheted” accounted for the largest share of Cambodia’s exports, at 66 per cent or $34.47 million (down 7.2 per cent over 2019), while “mineral fuels, oils, distillation products” made up 79 per cent or $74.86 million (up 18.5-fold over 2019) of the Kingdom’s imports.
The two categories respectively correspond to chapters 61 and 27 of the Harmonised System (HS) of Tariff Nomenclature.