Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan and his Cambodian counterpart Pan Sorasak jointly announced on Monday the completion of China-Cambodia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks, half a year after the two sides launched the negotiations.

That marks almost the fastest speed for FTA talks across the globe, reflecting the sound economic and trade cooperation base between the two countries as well as their strong willingness to promote bilateral trade and investment to hedge against shocks brought on by the global pandemic.

Next, the two sides will fulfill their own domestic procedures and strive to sign the agreement within 2020, according to a joint statement released by the two countries on the same day.

According to a press release from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, the reaching of the agreement is an implementation of the two countries’ leaders’ instructions and a specific measure for developing a comprehensive strategic partnership and promoting the joint establishment of a community forged by a shared future.

“The Chinese commerce ministry is willing to continue to work with its Cambodian counterpart on tasks including signing the agreement and enhancing bilateral economic and trade cooperation to reach a new stage in their contribution to an open world economy,” said the press release.

It’s worth noting that the China-Cambodia FTA clearly includes the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and covers other sectors including goods and services trade, investment cooperation and e-commerce. In November 2018, China and Singapore upgraded their FTA, including the BRI cooperation for the first time.

Pan Sorasak said that completion of the FTA talks is a milestone in developing bilateral relations with China, showing that the two countries’ comprehensive strategic partnership and BRI cooperation has entered a new era.

Xu Liping, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday that the FTA will inject new vigor into China-Cambodia economic ties to cushion against the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and bring bilateral relations to a new height.

It is expected that under the agreement, China will export more intermediate textile products to Cambodia, while the Southeast Asian nation will export more raw materials to China to boost its economy, he said. “Chinese businessmen will also invest in areas in Cambodia such as finance and services.”

Observers noted that the FTA between China and Cambodia will set an example for further regional cooperation in Southeast Asia.

“It is likely that more Southeast Asian countries will follow suit to negotiate FTAs with China, so that their economies can get a much-needed shot in the arm amid the global pandemic outbreak, which dents economic growth and disrupts supply chains,” Xu noted.

The China-Cambodia FTA talks started on January 20 in Beijing.