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Experts Caution Against Hasty Joint Development of Offshore Oil

An unidentified Cambodian man sleeps under a poster of a petroleum advertisement on a street in the capital Phnom Penh, file photo.

The foreign ministers of Cambodian and Thailand agreed this week to work together to develop overlapping areas for offshore oil and gas, but experts said Friday Cambodia should be careful not to rush into any deals.

Joint work on the offshore blocs of oil would require complicated legal processes and present other challenges that should be carefully considered before any plan to jointly develop oil and gas goes forward, they said.

In a meeting this week, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart, Surapong Tovichakchaikul, said they would speed up negotiations over joint development in offshore blocs in the Gulf of Thailand believed to be rich in oil and natural gas.

Hor Namhong told reporters the two sides needed to reach a compromise “as soon as possible.”

However, analysts on Friday urged caution in moving forward on joint development.

“We must be careful in upcoming discussions on the overlapping claim areas,” said Mam Sambath, executive director of Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency. “We must prepare a thorough legal process in conformity with international standards and care.”

As a deal moves forward, he said, Cambodia must avoid allowing the benefits of oil and gas development to reach only individuals or one political party.

Lao Monghay, an independent economic analyst, said Thailand comes from a powerful negotiating position, so Cambodia must make sure there is parity in any joint agreement.

Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, agreed, saying Cambodia’s negotiating position with Thailand needs strengthening.

“Thailand’s economy is of larger scope than ours and has more possibilities than ours in terms of conflict or power over us, both diplomatically and militarily,” he said. “We are small. We are weak, but we must be stronger in technical experts.”