Vietnam, Cambodia open up cross-border river trade

Cambodia and Vietnam on Thursday signed a treaty that will allow freedom of navigation on Mekong waterways between the two countries and increase access to the river system for foreign vessels.  

The Treaty on Waterway Transportation, signed in Phnom Penh on the first day of Vietnamese Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh’s three-day visit to Cambodia, legally binds Cambodia and Vietnam to reducing the official restrictions that have existed for cross-border navigation, according to the Mekong River Commission (MRC).
A woman sells fruit and food on a boat on the Mekong River in Kandal Province bordering Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Vietnam and Cambodia signed a treaty Dec. 17 to open up cross-border river trade on the Mekong (Photo: Tuong Thuy)

Both governments say that the move will free-up regional and international trade, help avoid delays and make river-based customs and immigration procedures more efficient and straight-forward, according to the MRC.

The Mekong body added the agreement also introduced a range of other measures that should improve efficiency and safety for vessels using the more than 65 Cambodian and Vietnamese registered internal ports.

The MRC – the intergovernmental body responsible for cooperation on the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin whose members are Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – facilitated the agreement by assisting a legal task force in both countries, with funding provided by the Governments of Belgium and Australia.  

“The Mekong and a range of other tributaries between Cambodia and Vietnam are now officially open. Now no one may legally stop river trade,” Mr. Mom Sibon, Secretary of State, Ministry of Public Works and Transport was quoted by the MRC as saying in Phnom Penh Thursday.

He was also quoted as saying that the agreement would in the long term increase export potential and help both Cambodia and Vietnam achieve their poverty alleviation goals.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hei Bavy, Delegate of the Royal Government of Cambodia, Chairman and CEO of Phnom Penh Port, was quoted, “This agreement, along with the recent development of Cai Mep Port in Vietnam, provide exciting opportunities for economic growth in Cambodia and development of Phnom Penh Port.”

“We can now realize the full potential of the Mekong River by transporting goods directly to the United States, Europe and Australia through Cai Mep Port,” added Mr. Bavy.

According to the MRC, the new treaty will open up Mekong waterways to a range of new possibilities for generating trade revenue.

“Through this treaty, the Governments of Cambodia and Vietnam have agreed to allow all waterway users to freely cross borders for the transport of cargo and passengers,” said Jeremy Bird, CEO of the MRC.

Mr. Bird added “This will help all vessels, including, river cruise ships by allowing better access to ports in the Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and many more sites that attract tourists.”

MRC chief technical advisor Lieven Geerinck said, “Shipping on the Lower Mekong River has previously not been conducted in a consistent manner. Now shipping companies can plan with confidence when exactly their containers will arrive at destination.  It is all about reliability”.

The new regulations cover the Mekong River, the Tonle Sap, Bassac and Vam Nao rivers, as well as a number of canals in Vietnam and apply to all kinds of vessels, including sea-going ships under foreign flag.

Both countries have agreed to grant to each other’s vessels “most favoured-nation treatment,” according to the wording of the treaty.

A Mekong Navigation Facilitation Committee will be established to implement and monitor the agreement.

By Tuong Thuy

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