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Canada’s giants in Cambodia

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Canadian ambassador to Cambodia, Ron Hoffmann, pictured at Van's Restaurant in Phnom Penh today.

Billion-dollar firms, including Blackberry maker Research in Motion and aircraft manufacturer Bombardier, are among the commercial giants taking part in Canada’s first trade and investment mission to Cambodia.

Aimed at boosting Canada’s so-far limited participation in the Kingdom’s economy, company representatives are scheduled to enter into high-level talks with government figures – including Deputy Prime Minister Sok An – during the two-day mission which was launched today.

With Canadian investment in Thailand increasing by 300 percent in the past 18 months, Canadian ambassador to Cambodia and Thailand Ron Hoffmann said interest in the Kingdom was “very high”.

“Asia is the future for all of us. Everybody knows why and everybody is adjusting their business practices accordingly,” said the former ambassador to Afghanistan.

Hoffmann, who is based in Bangkok following the closure of the Phnom Penh embassy in 2009, highlighted Canadian companies’ sense of public responsibility and environmental awareness as beneficial to potential investment.

“There has been a surge of investment [in Cambodia] from countries where their companies maybe don’t share those same values. I won’t single any country out, but I think we all know who they are and it hasn’t escaped the government,” he said.

“If [Cambodia gets] strong investors who care about their workforces and invest in governance, I think this government recognises that can raise the overall level of investment and investor behaviour.”

Hoffmann also emphasised the importance of a healthy working environment and a strong labour and legal system in the eyes of potential investors, many of whom expressed enthusiasm for Cambodia and their ambitions for the future.

Christophe Chicandard, Southeast Asia and Pacific sales director at global corporation Bombardier, a company which generated US$19.4 billion in the fiscal year ending January 31, 2010, said the firm was looking at opportunities to sell corporate jets in the Kingdom.

“To see where Cambodia was and where it has come to now is spectacular. There is a lot of room to grow, like any of these Southeast Asian countries I think they are keen on developing their relationship with the Western world,” he said.

The Asia region, he said, presented a potential “third wave” of sales for the firm – following previous waves in American then Europe – and currently makes up 20 percent of its book orders.

“The leads are China and India. So yes, countries like Cambodia might be a drop in the bucket [of potential sales], but I can see that you only create a bucket of water if you have many drops.

“So we need those as well, and you only establish good market presence if you are here first.”

While John Leung, director of emerging markets in Southeast Asia at multi-billion dollar NASDAQ-listed Research In Motion, said via email that the firm had “growth plans” for Cambodia and cited its participation in the trade mission as a means of “ensuring that the BlackBerry platform meets the needs of local customers”.

Agricultural trade is also being considered.

Gretchen Bozak, Canada’s regional agri-food trade commissioner for Southeast Asia, highlighted the potential for cattle imports to the Kingdom.

A small number of Canadian companies are already operating in the country. Junior miner Prairie Pacific Mining Corporation owns a 90-percent stake in a joint venture with Liberty Mining to explore areas of Ratanakkiri province.

Prairie Country manager John-Paul Dau said it would be drilling at its concessions from March to November after entering the Kingdom a year and a half ago.

Representatives from international private equity investment manager Lombard Investments, Thailand’s sixth-largest bank Thanachart Bank, and credit agency Export Development Canada are also taking part.

In 2009, Canada exported $7 million of goods to Cambodia. The Kingdom exported $45 million to Canada, the vast majority of which were garments.

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