Work is underway to incorporate the northeastern provinces of Ratanakkiri, Mondolkiri and Stung Treng into economic partnership with bordering provinces in Laos and Vietnam, said Sok Siphana, secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce.
The triangular strategy, inked last year by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Laotian and Vietnamese counterparts at an Asean summit in Vientiane in November, will bring increased agriculture to three remote provinces and ease cross-border trade between the three neighboring countries, he said July 6.
“On the Cambodian side there’ll be a lot of plantations, coffee and spice,” Sok Siphana said.
“On the ground, roads will be built. If we form a synergy, we can do more business among those provinces,” he said, adding that each country has remote border provinces that are partly cut off from their own country’s economy and can benefit from each other.
Formal documentation of exactly what kinds of development the long-rumored agreement will bring has not yet been made public.
Ly Quang Bich, political counselor at the Vietnamese Embassy, said the agreement will combine combating deforestation with growing coffee plants.
“It will be a cooperation in plant-ing trees and preserving the forests,” he said. He added that the three countries will also cooperate on combating “cross-border human trafficking.”
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said he was skeptical of the project, adding that increased cooperation with Vietnam around the border may make it harder for Montagnard asylum-seekers to find sanctuary here.
Some observers have warned that the agreement could cause further people to be forced off their land in the three provinces.
“For development to be positive, the impact on local livelihoods and culture must be the paramount consideration,” Russell Peterson of NGO Forum said.