Turkey’s Foreign Minister announced a bold plan Monday to boost trade with Cambodia by more than 400 percent over the next five years, aiming to reach $500 million in bilateral trade by 2020, up from about $124 million last year.
On a diplomatic trip to Cambodian during which he presided over the official opening of Turkey’s new embassy building in Phnom Penh on Sunday, Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke to reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after signing an agreement for diplomatic visa exemptions with Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong.
“Bilateral trade has been increasing and the target is to increase mutual trade from $124 million to $500 million by 2020,” Mr. Cavusoglu said, adding that his government would also push for direct flights between Turkey and Cambodia.
“I will encourage Turkish airlines to start flights to Cambodia in the near future,” he said.
In an email, Mr. Cavusoglu noted that growth in trade between the two countries last year was largely due to $113 million worth of exports from Cambodia.
“In this regard, it is important to further increase and diversify the composition of bilateral trade on a mutually beneficial basis,” he said, noting that a newly formed Joint Economic Commission would be at the center of efforts to increase trade between Turkey and Cambodia.
Mr. Cavusoglu said the two countries would sign a Reciprocal Promotion and Protection of Investment Agreement by the end of the year.
“The signature of the aforementioned Agreement will strengthen our efforts in encouraging Turkish private sector to engage in joint investments with their Cambodian counterparts,” he said.
“Turkish companies can invest especially in the fields of infrastructure projects and different sectors of industry, such as household appliances, car, trucks, machinery, textile and processed agricultural products, as well as in the tourism sector.”
Attempts to expand trade with Cambodia are part of Turkey’s broader strategy to open its economy to the world, Turkish Ambassador Ilhan Kemal Tug said in an interview last month.
“Cambodia has been one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia for…over a decade. They have been registering a growth rate of over 7 percent and also, in general, Turkey’s foreign policy has changed a lot since the past 10 years,” he said. “We are opening up more to the world.”
Mr. Kemal Tug said the lack of historical relations between the countries was in some ways advantageous.
“It actually makes my job a little bit easier compared with countries we have had relations with,” he said. “The two countries belong to different blocks. Turkey was in the Western block, Cambodia was in the other block.”
“It’s a brand-new car, you turn on the engine and you start steering.”
Yakup Aktoprak, the manager of the Turkish-owned Weibo Best Production garment factory in Phnom Penh, said the firm had invested about $5 million in the country and employed some 2,000 workers.
Mr. Aktoprak said low labor costs and liberal trade regulations made Cambodia—which ranked 135 out of 189 countries on the World Bank’s Doing Business 2015 index and remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world—a good place to set up a company.
“After 10 years, Cambodia will be full of investors,” he said.
© 2015, Max Weinstein. All rights reserved.