By: Hang Sokunthea and Aisha Down, Cambodia Daily, November 28, 2016
Cambodia will soon open both its roads and ports for Laos to use in exporting goods abroad, according to an announcement posted on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page on Sunday.
The announcement followed a meeting between Mr. Hun Sen and Laotian President Pany Yathotou in Phnom Penh on Saturday, during which the two discussed strengthening ties.
The Facebook post did not specify when ports would be open to Laotian exports, or which ports these would be, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not be reached on Sunday for comment.
Soeung Sophary, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Commerce, said opening Cambodia’s roads and ports to exports from Laos had been raised during diplomatic meetings in the past, but never agreed upon.
“As Laos is a landlocked country, this is the first time for Cambodia to let Laos export through us,” she said, adding that she did not know the details of the agreement.
Hun Sen’s meeting with Ms. Yathotou follows a meeting between the leaders of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in Siem Reap last week, during which the prime minister denied that the Don Sahong dam had any downstream effects on Cambodian villagers and warmly agreed to Laos’ offer to sell Cambodia cheap hydropower.
Laos’s main export is timber, with U.N. Comtrade putting it at 40 percent of the nation’s exports. An internal WWF report leaked late last year asserts, however, that illegal logging in Laos is rampant, and the actual volume of timber leaving the country is poorly documented.
Denis Smirnov, a consultant for environmental group WWF focusing on the timber trade in Southeast Asia, said it’s unlikely that any illegal exports will find their way through Cambodia, owing to an ongoing crackdown on the trade.
“The Lao government in May started to enforce the export ban on unprocessed wood for the first time,” he said, adding that it was uncertain whether it would last past the end of the rainy season.