Denmark has a reputation as one of the least-corrupt countries in the world. There are few Danish companies operating in Cambodia, but for those that do, they are required by Danish law to abide to high standards of non-corrupt practices when operating abroad. The Danish Ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia Mikael Hemniti Winther sat down with the Post this week to discuss Danish business interests in Cambodia, corruption and the unique relationship his office provides for Danish companies looking to invest overseas.
What is the current landscape for Danish businesses in Cambodia?
There’s not a great number of Danish businesses in Cambodia. One explanation is that the composition of companies in Denmark in terms of size is that we have much more small- and medium-sized companies than really large ones. Many of them do not go very far when they invest and if they do – they tend to trade and invest in countries they are familiar with and that have a similar business environment as Denmark. Only the most resourceful and experienced venture to Asia and they go to countries such as Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand or Malaysia and now more to Indonesia.
What are the opportunities for Danish businesses in Cambodia?
I think there are fairly good opportunities for Danish businesses in Cambodia. Cambodia provides an open economy with hard working people and economic growth. Traditionally, it has been the textile sector that has attracted foreign investors to Cambodia, but there are other areas that could be attractive for Denmark, in particular the oil and energy sector when it is more developed.
What are the challenges?
The challenges are there. They include, at times, political unpredictability and some unrest that deters investors. It also includes transparency issues in thepublic sector and corruption. With some areas of weak legislation or areas where enforcement of the law is insufficient, there are also reputational risks associated with investments that Danish companies are analysing very carefully before coming to Cambodia.
The Danish Embassy has a unique relationship when working with Danish businesses. The mechanism whereby Danish businesses pay for your services and you are measured by this. Can you explain how this works?
The Danish Foreign Service has a Department called the Trade Council which is basically an integrated export and investment organisation within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The service is always rooted in the needs of the business community as the board of directors consist of active business professionals with practical international experience as well as industrial and social insight. The Trade Council focuses on offering Danish companies individual advice on all issues important for their international activities.
Denmark is considered one of the least corrupt countries in the world. How do Danish businesses overcome the issue of corruption when investing in countries like Cambodia?
Corruption creates an environment of unclarity, unpredictability and costs that cannot be legally accounted for. Corruption is illegal and punishable by law. Danish companies must therefore operate with partners in Cambodia which has the same values and always make it very clear to counterparts that there are no corrupt practices applied.
How can Danish business benefit Cambodia?
I always find that the products of Denmark are of high quality and benefit the country as a whole. In terms of investment, I truly believe that the high level of private governance that Danish companies represent, including significant CSR that considers the environment and not least the employees, is of true benefit to Cambodia, where the legislation or the enforcement of legislation within certain sensitive areas may not be so high.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity