Cambodian exports on Friday were for the second time this month denied entry into Thailand despite a warning from Prime Minister Hun Sen last week that this could draw retaliatory measures from Cambodia.
The governor of Oddar Meanchey province on Saturday briefly banned all imports of Thai goods at the Choam-Sa Ngam border crossing in response to Thai authorities’ refusal on Friday to admit some Cambodian agricultural goods, according to Neth Dara, chief of the checkpoint on the Cambodian side.
Though agricultural produce can now flow freely, Mr Dara said yesterday that for two months Thai officials had blocked exports of construction materials at Choam-Sa Ngam, reportedly for fear they would be used to fortify RCAF border positions.
A five-day fruit standoff in Pailin province was resolved on March 15 when both sides agreed to resume imports. Mr Hun Sen on Thursday personally warned outgoing Thai Ambassador Prasas Prasasvinitchai that if repeated, such measures could result in a retaliatory ban on Thai imports.
A Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman was unavailable yesterday. Though unaware of the matter, Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said Thailand followed international trade rules, but that Thai defense officials did have the power to block exports on security grounds.
Mr Dara, the checkpoint chief, said that on Friday Cambodian produce—including mushrooms, bamboo shoots, lemons, coconuts, chili and wild vegetables—was refused entry into Thailand on the grounds it was “not up to standard.”
“When they heard our provincial governor ordered a ban of all Thai goods, Thai customs officials met to negotiate with our border officers, and they agreed to allow Cambodian goods to be imported without conditions,” he said, noting that a 30 percent import duty was still imposed on Cambodian lemons.
Mr Dara said the Thais had in fact started this latest mini-trade war two months ago when imports from Thailand of construction materials, such as cement, corrugated tin roofing and steel, were blocked.
Thai customs officials said Saturday the ban in construction-related goods was in fact the doing of Thai border guards, according to Mr Dara.
“Yesterday, Thai customs officers told us that they were not the ones behind the ban and that it was Thai black-uniformed soldiers,” he said. “They are afraid that Cambodia would buy Thai construction material and build military bases and bunkers near the border to use against them.”
Mr Panitan, the Thai government spokesman, said yesterday that, while he had not been informed about the matter, such trade barriers were not necessarily Thai government policy.
“The Thai government in regards to trade follows international trade standards and domestic regulations,” he said, adding that there was no official ban on exporting construction materials to Cambodia.
“The government does not have any such restrictions in place,” he said, adding that Thailand’s defense ministry had some leeway in enforcing import bans for security reasons.
“The soldiers have a duty to stop the flow of such materials if ordered to by the defense department.”
Yim Phanna, Anlong Veng district governor, said the brief blockages of exports had so far not hurt local farmers.
“It does not affect our villagers’ daily life, because our villagers sell very little in the Thai market,” he said.
Brigadier General Nuon Nov, deputy commander of RCAF Region 4, said the lack of construction imports was not a concern.
“This does not affect the RCAF because we have our own cement to build our military base and we don’t need to buy such materials from Thailand,” he said, adding that he believed the ban might have more to do with internal Thai disputes.
(Additional reporting by Michael Philips)