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Ruth Banomyong: Border agreements must lead to action

The border gate at the Aranyaprathet-Poipet crossing from Thailand into Cambodia (Photo by Ruth Banomyong)

ARANYAPRATHET, Thailand -- It is late morning at the border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. The Aranyaprathet-Poipet crossing is bustling with people walking between the two countries. Thai trucks, however, are parked or idling in a queue stretching more than 1km along the main road leading to the border post. The traffic is restricted to just one lane. This chaotic situation is considered "normal," even though a free trade area encompassing Thailand and Cambodia has been implemented by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The ASEAN FreeTrade Area was established in 1992. But as Cambodia joined ASEAN in 1999, the country was given until 2010 to bring standards into line with the free trade agreement.

     The queue gradually gets shorter during afternoons, but the following day, it starts all over again. What is wrong with the export and import process between the two countries? All the Thai trucks have already cleared export customs formalities on their side of the border and are waiting for the Cambodians to allow them into the country to go through import clearance procedures. On the Thai side, customs officers admit these daily queues reflect badly on their efficiency levels, even though they have already cleared the trucks and the goods. They are resigned to often being blamed for delays in cross-border traffic -- even though, in this case, the congestion is not due to Thai procedures.

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