Photo by: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post
A sales clerk holds up a Samsung Galaxy tablet at a store on Sihanouk Boulevard in Phnom Penh yesterday. A US technology firm is in talks to manufacture more affordable tablets for the domestic market.
Mobile payment company Wing was in talks on partnering with a US technology firm that plans to assemble Android tablets in Cambodia, in what could be another step away from the country’s staple manufactured good – garments.
Although a final partnership agreement had yet to made with Wing, prospects for Cambodia’s first electronics assembly factory “looked very positive”, Wing chief executive Ian Watson said yesterday.
“We’re looking for additional ways to compliment our mobile money system,” he said, adding that Wing would not market the devices.
Like the Ford cars assembled in a Sihanoukville plant that launched in late March, the Android tablets would be marketed to Cambodians.
The devices would be equipped with Cambodian-language applications and priced low enough to reach Cambodian consumers, Watson said.
The potential move raises questions on Cambodia’s ability to supply the labour needed to make – as well as adequate demand to purchase – the devices.
Average yearly income in Cambodia was US$907 last year, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
“I’m surprised we’re not seeing more and more of this right now … Domestically, there’s a supply of labour for more assembly and light industry here,” Gordon Peters, manager at Emerging Markets Consulting in Cambodia, said yesterday.
Human resources management was still a challenge in Cambodia, but better pay and health benefits should attract the needed work force, he added.
Rami Sharaf, country manager for RMA Cambodia, which owns the Ford assembly plant, said workers have performed well at the plant after receiving the proper training.
Asian Development Bank in an annual report on Cambodia and Asia issued last month said skill shortages were hindering the country’s development.
The report recommended a boost in education and industry-relevant training programs that would help people enter job markets without complete educations.
The ADB’s 2011 report pointed to diversification away from garment maufacturing as a top priority for the country’s industry sector.
While the Cambodian market was RMA’s short-term target, assemblers in Cambodia would no doubt look to the regional market for goods produced domestically, Sharaf said.
“When you reach 2015, we will have an ASEAN economic community,” he said, referring to the regional assimilation of customs regulations and banking that is hoped to boost regional trade.
“Anyone who is doing this here must consider the umbrella of ASEAN as a market.”
The “Everything But Arms” agreement with Europe would also see Cambodian-made products exported tariff-free to Europe, Peters said.
Research conducted by EMC indicated that the market for tablet devices is increasing in Cambodia, Peters said. A growing middle- and upper-class were already buying similar products, he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Don Weinland at [email protected]