Cambodia and Viet Nam formally open-up cross-border river trade on the Mekong

Vientiane, Lao PDR, 17th Dec 2009

Cambodia and Viet Nam have signed a treaty that will allow freedom of navigation on Mekong waterways between the two countries and increase access to the river system for foreign vessels.

The Treaty on Waterway Transportation, signed by both countries in Phnom Penh today, legally binds Cambodia and Viet Nam to reducing the official restrictions that have existed for cross-border navigation. Both governments say that the move will free-up regional and international trade, help avoid delays and make river-based customs and immigration procedures more efficient and straight-forward. The agreement also introduces a range of other measures that should improve efficiency and safety for vessels using the more than 65 Cambodian and Vietnamese registered internal ports.

“The Mekong, and a range of other tributaries between Cambodia and Viet Nam are now officially open. Now no one may legally stop river trade,” said H.E. Mr. Mom Sibon, Secretary of State, Ministry of Public Works and Transport in Phnom Penh today. “This is a historical step that will not only improve the quality and efficiency of waterborne transport in the Mekong Region, but in the long-term, will increase export potential and help both Cambodia and Viet Nam achieve their poverty alleviation goals.”

Cambodia’s largest international river port also endorsed the move. “This agreement, along with the recent development of Cai Mep Port in Viet Nam provide exciting opportunities for economic growth in Cambodia and development of Phnom Penh Port,” said H.E. Mr. Hei Bavy, Delegate of the Royal Government of Cambodia, Chairman and CEO of Phnom Penh Port. “We can now realise the full potential of the Mekong River by transporting goods directly to the United States, Europe and Australia through Cai Mep Port.”

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) facilitated the agreement by assisting a legal task force in both countries, with funding provided by the Governments of Belgium and Australia.

According to the MRC, the new treaty will open up Mekong waterways to a range of new possibilities for generating trade revenue. “Through this treaty, the Governments of Cambodia and Viet Nam have agreed to allow all waterway users to freely cross borders for the transport of cargo and passengers,” said Jeremy Bird, CEO of the MRC. “This will help all vessels, including, river cruise ships by allowing better access to ports in the Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and many more sites that attract tourists.”

“Shipping on the Lower Mekong River has previously not been conducted in a consistent manner” said Capt. Lieven Geerinck, MRC Chief Technical Advisor. “Now shipping companies can plan with confidence when exactly their containers will arrive at destination. It is all about reliability”.

The agreement will also put in place a range of measures for ensuring river traffic safety and regulating the transportation of dangerous goods by river. By standardising rules and regulations, the MRC claims that there will be a considerable improvement to the safety of the shipping of oil and hazardous liquid cargoes, port services and safe navigation.

The new regulations cover the Mekong River, the Tonle Sap, Bassac and Vam Nao rivers, as well as a number of canals in Viet Nam and apply to all kinds of vessels, including sea-going ships under foreign flag.

The MRC says that improving river transport infrastructure will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions normally associated with land-based transport. River freight produces on average about one fifth of the greenhouse gas CO2 per ton per km that is produced by trucking goods on the road.


Related Documents

Agreement on Waterway Transportation between the Government of Socialist Republic of Viet Nam and the Loyal Government of Cambodia. The agreement is available in 3 languages:

Notes to Editors

A map of regulated waterways under the treaty is available on request.

For further details, or a copy of the complete agreement, please contact the sender of this e-mail or use the address at the bottom of the page

  • The Agreement between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam on Waterway Transportation was signed on 17 December 2009 at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, by H.E. Mom Sibon, Secretary of State, Cambodian Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and H.E. Le Manh Hung, Vice Minister, Vietnamese Ministry of Transport.
  • According to the wording of the document: “The Contracting Parties shall refrain from adopting any measures or regulations that might directly or indirectly impair navigability or make it permanently more difficult, and shall take, as soon as possible, the necessary measures to remove all obstacles and hazards to navigation.”
  • Both countries have agreed to grant to each other's vessels “most favoured-nation treatment,” according to the wording of the treaty.
  • A Mekong Navigation Facilitation Committee will be established to implement and monitor the Agreement, which will also examine complaints from the waterway users of all nationalities; and will co-operate with the MRC and the National Mekong Committees in the basin.
  • Formulation of the agreement and facilitation of the process was done under the MRC’s Navigation Programme, which aims to improve the legal framework for encouraging freedom of navigation in the Mekong River system, thereby implementing Article 9 of the 1995 Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin. The agreement was modelled on the Scheldt Treaty that opened up shipping on the Scheldt River between the Netherlands and Belgium, and allows foreign countries to access the river for trade.
  • The Mekong River System presents an excellent opportunity for waterborne transport and trade. Waterborne trade in Cambodia and Vietnam has experienced significant recent growth; with trends in container traffic at Phnom Penh Port and general cargo through Can Tho Port both showing steady increases. Recent changes in the river morphology favourable to international navigation, economic development and investment opportunities, rehabilitation of the most important ports, improvement of inland waterways, an improved system of aids to navigation, and fast growth of food production, water-related tourism and foreign trade will in the near future require a considerable expansion of the transport capacity of the river.

Further quote regarding the treaty signing:

“The Agreement conforms to internationally accepted standards. It implements the principle of freedom of navigation derived from the 1995 MRC Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin." said Prof. Dr. Eric Van Hooydonk, legal consultant to the MRC Navigation Programme.

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