Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh on Thursday called on the government and a Japan International Cooperation Agency study team to consider the “open sea policy” plan to assist regional development of the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Growth Corridor project.
Cham Prasidh, speaking at the Third Workshop of JICA Growth Corridor Development Study, aimed to collect strategies to develop master plans for improving economic ties within the Growth Corridor, primarily shared by the municipalities of Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, as well as the five surrounding provinces.
“The open sea policy aims to promote water links between international and Cambodian seaports in Sihanoukville, as well as to encourage domestic ports in Kampot, Koh Kong, Kep, Stung Hao and Keo Phosh, Srey Ambel District, Koh Kong province to become international,” Cham Prasidh said.
The plan mimics Prime Minister Hun Sen’s open sky policy, initiated in 1999 to entice airlines to fly directly to Siem Reap from foreign destinations. Cham Prasidh said he would soon send the idea to Hun Sen for consideration and would ask JICA to study it.
Cham Prasidh compared shipping goods passed along sea lanes to tourists staying in hotels. “Some come to stay at five-star hotels, and some come for two-star or no-star hotels,” he said. “I think we have to organize both ways, big and small seaports for shipping lines.”
Cambodia has only two official international ports: Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh. The ports are not enough to support the country’s import and export businesses, Cham Prasidh said.
Although Sihanoukville’s seaport has expanded with support from the Japanese government, Cham Prasidh said the aid was not sufficient for effective Cambodian development.
Phnom Penh’s port remains an obstacle for shippers, since it is cluttered by confusing rules and heavy paperwork. “This port may have no future,” the minister said.
The Council for the Development of Cambodia’s board recently proposed that the government create the Keo Phosh seaport in Srey Ambel district to specialize in importing and exporting agro-industry products.
Large ships from Singapore and Malaysia will need to use Sihanoukville’s port, Cham Prasidh said, while smaller ships from Thailand and Vietnam may use the ports in Kampot or Koh Kong. He said shipping directly to smaller ports would be cheaper than shipping through Sihanoukville.
But after Koji Yamada, JICA study team leader, read an executive summary report of a one-year study, he was not ready to promote the project.
Cham Prasidh also expressed concern that development would be hindered by massive administrative paperwork, expensive wages and electricity prices, and illegitimate payment plans. “This is our disease,” he said. “We have to find the right medicine to cure those limitations.”
Amad Yah Ya, secretary of state for the Ministry of Public Works, agreed that the open sea policy is a good idea, but questioned whether Cambodia had a strong enough shipping industry to effectively use the ports. “Do we have a lot of goods to export? I don’t think so,” he said. “I would say the open sea policy is like a dream.”