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Removal of tariffs urged

French trade official calls on other countries to follow EU’s lead

THE European Union’s 2008 removal of import duties for Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) on all but a handful of goods directly benefited Cambodia’s economy and was worthy of emulation by other developed countries, the French minister of state for foreign trade said Thursday during a visit to Phnom Penh.

“It doesn’t make sense if there is aid for economic production but no imports due to trade barriers,” Anne-Marie Idrac said after touring Phnom Penh’s Sofitel building site.

The Cambodian people directly benefit from Europe’s tariff elimination, she said, and it “would be very good if other nations would follow”.

Following the EU’s August 2008 adoption of the generalised system of preferences (GSP) legislation favouring LDCs, Cambodia’s exports to France rose despite the global financial crisis, statistics show.

The Kingdom exported US$100.2 million last year, $99.0 million in 2008, and $85.7 million in 2007, according to a French Foreign Trade Advisers white paper on bilateral trade obtained Wednesday.

Meanwhile, French shipments to the Kingdom dropped year on year, widening the country’s trade deficit with Cambodia, figures show.

Cambodia imported $54.3 million of French goods in 2009, $66.3 million in 2008, and $65.2 million the year previous.

Large French firms were involved in discussions aimed at investing in Cambodia, with Paris-based France Telecom and energy giant Total SA looked to enter the domestic market, Idrac said.

“Total has lots of hope for Cambodia,” she said, but she declined to elaborate on the present state of discussions. The oil giant’s dealings in the Kingdom have been criticised by watchdog group Global Witness for a lack of transparency.

Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly stated in April that Total had paid $20 million in a signing bonus and $8 million earmarked for a social fund as part of its October agreement for the Area 3 offshore oil concession, but it remains unclear where the money will go.

Several smaller French firms had recently stepped up investment in the Kingdom, Idrac said. She highlighted $4.5 million milled-rice exporter Golden Rice (Cambodia) Co, which was opened in 2009 by Soresum Group from Reunion Island, a French overseas department.

French efforts significantly contributed to Kampot pepper and Kampong Speu palm sugar’s attainment of geographical indication (GI) status in April, Attwood Import Export Co President Lim Chhiv Ho said Wednesday. Speaking at the signing of an accord promoting increased bilateral economic cooperation, she added that a weeklong event promoting French products would be held in Phnom Penh in November.

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