The continued spread of Covid-19 has disrupted rail traffic between Cambodia and Thailand, a link that was inaugurated just under two years ago.
Ministry of Public Works and Transport undersecretary of state Vasim Sorya said the government is working with its Thai counterpart to drive traction in rail traffic between the two countries, but the global health crisis has slammed the breaks on progress.
“We have not had any cross-border traffic as of late because of the [rising number of] Covid-19 cases, making it temporarily impossible for us to transport” goods between the two countries, he said.
He noted that a team from the ministry is ploughing away to speed up talks with the Thai side.
While the team has conducted a series of online video conferences to move things along, a general consensus has yet to be reached on a timeline for the resumption of trade or other, more specific technical terms, Sorya admitted.
He added that Thailand recently gifted 140km of rail and a locomotive to Cambodia as a gesture that might help improve goods exchange along the northern Phnom Penh-Poipet route.
The route ends at the Poipet station near the international border with Aranyaprathet town in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province.
On April 22, 2019, the Cambodian and Thai prime ministers presided over the inauguration of the railway link that connected the two countries after a 45-year hiatus.
This came after the Cambodian government restored the 386km Phnom Penh-Poipet route.
On June 12, 2009, the Cambodian government granted a 30-year concession agreement to Toll (Cambodia) Co Ltd – a joint-venture between Australian-owned Toll Holding Ltd and Cambodia’s local conglomerate Royal Group of Companies Ltd – to manage the operations of the Kingdom’s railway system.
In 2014, however, Toll Holding transferred its 55 per cent stake in Toll Cambodia to Royal Group, which then changed the subsidiary’s name to Royal Railway Cambodia.
The government has spent some $226.6 million to restore the country’s southern and western railways to improve transportation.
About $85 million of these funds came from the national budget while the remaining $141.6 million came from the Asian Development Bank and other development partners.
Connecting Phnom Penh to Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province and on to the Thai border, the northern railway has helped crank up trade figures, even if just a little bit.
Thailand is Cambodia’s seventh-largest importer of Cambodian goods after the US, Japan, Germany, China, the UK and Canada, accounting for four per cent of Cambodia’s exports.
Trade between Cambodia and Thailand reached $7.236 billion last year, tumbling 23.17 per cent from 2019, primarily due to the economic disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Thai Ministry of Commerce.
Statistics show that Cambodia exported $1.148 billion in merchandise to Thailand in 2020, down 49.49 per cent year-on-year, and imported $6.089 billion, down 14.80 per cent from 2019.
The bulk of Cambodia’s exports to Thailand are gemstones, jewellery, agricultural products and aluminium. Its imports mainly comprise of fuel, motorcycles, cars, gemstones and jewellery.