China has signed a free trade agreement with Cambodia that will increase mutual market access and lower or eliminate import duties on a wide range of goods, including Cambodian textiles, the Chinese trade ministry said on Monday.
The agreement was signed in the presence of the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, visiting Phnom Penh, and the Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen. Chinese media emphasize that it was negotiated in just seven months, between January and July 2020.
"The signing of the agreement signals even stronger ties between the two countries and is another key milestone in Cambodian-Chinese relations," Cambodia's head of commerce, Mr. Sorasak, said at the ceremony.
The minister expressed his hope that the agreement would enter into force early next year and contribute to "a more solid economic partnership through greater market access, liberalization in goods, services and investment".
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said tariff cuts will be cut on key goods for Cambodia's export industry, including clothing and footwear. Customs concessions will also apply to Chinese textiles, mechanical, electrical and metal products, which the Chinese were asking for.
Commentators point out that the European Union, a key export market for Cambodia, suspended some of the relatively underdeveloped country's trade privileges last year due to the opposition's outlawing and restriction of civil liberties by the authorities in Phnom Penh. This involved the reintroduction of tariffs on certain Cambodian goods.
In the face of mounting criticism from the West, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been ruling Cambodia for 35 years, turned to China, which has become his country's closest partner. Critics accuse Cambodia of allowing China to influence the policies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in return for economic aid.
The visit to Cambodia is the first leg of Wang's journey to Southeast Asia. He will then visit Malaysia, Laos, Thailand and Singapore.
Andrzej Borowiak from Canton (PAP)