Canada is one of Cambodia’s fastest-growing trade partners, with the Kingdom exporting close to $900 million in garments and footwear. The two countries are also in the initial stages of setting up a foreign trade protection and promotion agreement to facilitate bilateral trade growth.
The Post’s Ananth Baliga sat down with Philip Calvert, Canadian ambassador to Cambodia, to discuss potential avenues for increasing trade, Cambodia’s concerns over the Trans Pacific Partnership and the setting up of a formal diplomatic presence in the Kingdom.
Canada now has a diplomatic presence in Cambodia, coupled with a trade office and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Does this signal a ramping up of engagement with the Kingdom?
It signals our commitment to Cambodia and to our relationship. We have had a trade office here for a couple of years and now having a more formal Canadian diplomatic presence signals to Cambodia that we are taking the relationship seriously, and to ASEAN as well.
Canada is one of Cambodia’s fastest growing trade partners, predominantly in garments and footwear. Moving forward, do you see any other sectors where trade can be increased?
Well it depends. I think Cambodia is always interested in developing its food-processing sector and to increase food exports. As Canada has a strong and growing Asian population, there is always interest to get more products from Southeast Asia. I would say that has got a lot of opportunity. But, with processed foods and food products, the challenge there is food safety regulations and making sure they meet the regulations.
On the flip side, what kind of products and services can Canada introduce in Cambodia?
With services we are pretty strong right now. We have got Canadian National Bank [which owns a stake in ABA Bank] and Manulife. We also have telecom services, which provide services to telecom providers, and there we could do more. On the product side, I think we have had some inroads on the information technology side in the last year. We would like to see more on the energy side. Also, as Cambodians are getting wealthier we would like to see them putting Canada on their tourism agenda. A lot of it is chain tourism, where you have relatives in Montreal and you go visit them. I think there is a lot more we can be doing in marketing education services and perhaps establishing Canadian vocational schools here because there is a real need for human resource development here. Canada is a world leader in public-private partnerships and Cambodia is in real need of roads, railways, ports and airports. And we have the engineering firms to assist with that. One of the things about our PPP model is that they are flexible. So we can balance the responsibility the government takes versus the private sector and how much income derives from one another. So they can be tailored to the specific needs of the country.
With the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement including Vietnam, there are concerns here that foreign direct investment could be diverted to Vietnam. How would you address that?
I think there is increasing concern on the part of Cambodia because of Vietnam being a TPP member and the potential for losing its business and competitive edge. And there is an engagement to look at Thailand and Cambodia being potential TPP partners.
Canada is a leader in oil, gas and mineral exploration. Angkor Gold is already present in Cambodia, but do you see increased involvement in this sector?
I would like to raise awareness of this with Canadian companies. It’s just not about the capacity to develop the mines and to get a product out. It’s the way we do it and Angkor Gold is a good example of a company that has developed mines in a socially responsible way and that to me should be more of Canada’s brand. We are not only going to develop resources but we are going to give back to the community that we are in a partnership with.
One issue with bilateral trade between the two countries is a lot of Canadian exports come via the United States and it is difficult to record these as Canadian exports. Is this being looked at by the Canadian side?
It’s always an issue. For example, with Canada-China trade we never actually know how much is going back and forth. Because the transit trade in Hong Kong is so great. What we are able to track is the direct exports and that is our reference point. But, if trade is taking place, that is the most important thing. If Canadians and Cambodians are benefitting from trade, even if it is going through a third country, that is what we want to see. If we can actually help facilitate this, even if it does not show up on our export numbers, it means the two countries are creating prosperity and that’s what we want.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.