Laos and Cambodia vow to boost ties

Mekong fish traps near the Laos-Cambodia border. Source: Wikimedia

Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen have agreed to open a consulate in the Stung Treng province of Cambodia on June 30 and a Cambodian consulate in Champassak province on July 1.
Meeting in Phnom Penh, the premiers said they valued their increasing numbers of official visits and levels of cooperation. Figures remain unreliable from secretive, taciturn Vientiane and increasingly repressive Phnom Penh but poor road links, heavy jungle, unexploded ordnance from US bombing and unreliable power supplies have all restricted bilateral cooperation.
A border checkpoint at Nong Nok Khiene in Champassak province and Trapeang Kriel in Cambodian Stung Treng province will open before 2017.
Another plan is to build a 145-metre bridge across the Xe Lam Phao river in Champassak’s Mounlapamok district to connect to Cambodia.
A 78-kilometre road linking Mounlapamok district to the bridge is also planned.
Both sides agreed to promote investment and trade cooperation after bilateral trade reached a frankly feeble US$24.5 million in 2015.
Total investment in Laos by Cambodia was valued at about US$84 million, with tourism between the two countries seen as an area for growth, the Khmer Times quoted Ieng Sophalet, Hun Sen’s assistant, saying.
The neighbours, which were under French colonial rule for decades, need foreign investment to drive their economies along with improved physical infrastructure. Electrical shortages and poor roads are some of the factors keeping foreign investors away.
It was agreed to increase a government-to-government bachelor degree exchange scholarship to 15 per year.
The neighbours will continue to cooperate on border security in a bid to prevent the illegal trade in timber and drugs while speeding up border demarcation.
So Phonnary, vice-president of Acleda Bank, said the firm opened branches in Laos in 2008, adding that the investment environment in Laos had been positive, thanks to the country’s healthy economic growth.
“The Lao people need loans and financial services as their economic growth increases every year,” Phonnary explained.
Acleda Bank now had 41 branches in Laos with outstanding loans of US$90 million and deposits of US$90 million, Phonnary added.
However, she said that some challenges remained when it came to investing in Laos. Some of the laws and regulations related to investment needed to be looked at before Laos could become a free-market country, she said.
More border checkpoints will also be opened.
Both sides agreed to assist and support each other in regional groupings like the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy, Asean, the UN and the Greater Mekong Sub Region.
Thongloun will attend a meeting with Vietnam that Cambodia will host in November.
He invited Hun Sen to Laos and also to attend the Asean summit he is hosting later this year.