An agreement to significantly increase the number of vehicles transporting commercial goods through Cambodia and Vietnam’s six mutual land border crossings will boost the economy, government officials said on Wednesday.
The announcement, that the number of trucks allowed will increase from 40 per day to 500, came as a rights group expressed concern that O’yadaw International Checkpoint in Ratanakkiri province could become a bigger hotspot for transporting illegal wood.
Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kim Yan and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh officiated the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the checkpoint—an area that has been previously targeted in crackdowns on illegal smuggling of banned luxury wood.
During his remarks, Mr. Kim Yan applauded the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries and said he hoped the increase in commercial transportation would “contribute to poverty reduction…and improve the economic development of the two nations.”
Although a bilateral land transportation agreement has existed since 1998, a spokesman for the Public Works and Transport Ministry said vehicle crossings between borders had been set relatively low due to a trade imbalance.
“Before, we received more trucks coming in from Vietnam than from Cambodia going to Vietnam. Now we need to make it equal and maximize the number,” Nou Vatanakk said. He declined to elaborate on registration requirements or restrictions that would prevent the transportation of illegal cargo.
Pen Bonnar, a senior monitoring officer for rights group Adhoc, said he welcomed the announcement, but was concerned it would fuel an increase in illicit cross-border timber trafficking.
“It is good to have an agreement so that we might be able to have more accurate numbers of trucks coming in and out, but…it is such an opportunity for the traders,” Mr. Bonnar said.
In May, the U.K.’s Environmental Investigation Agency reported that its team of undercover investigators had found evidence that Vietnamese companies paid millions in bribes to Ratanakkiri officials in exchange for access to log protected areas, claims the Environment Ministry says it is investigating.