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Govt eyes inclusion in APEC

CAMBODIA is angling for membership in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, an international organisation that promotes trade and economic ties among member states, a move that could expose the Kingdom to greater investment opportunities.

Business and political leaders, including US President Barack Obama, will join APEC’s 2009 summit starting Sunday in Singapore. Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said a Cambodian delegation led by Prime Minister Hun Sen would also travel to the island state for a meeting between
Obama and ASEAN leaders on November 15, the first since 2007.

Cambodia is one of three ASEAN countries, alongside Laos and Myanmar, which do not belong to APEC, but Cambodian People’s Party parliamentarian Cheam Yeap said Cambodia is considering applying for membership in the hope of broadening its diplomatic and economic horizons. “We are a developing country, so we need support and resources to be invested in our country,” he said.

Though the establishment of an APEC-wide free trade area has been discussed intermittently in recent years, the organisation does not impose binding commitments on member states, simply encouraging dialogue and cooperation among its constituents. Comprising 54 percent of world GDP and 44 percent of world trade as of 2008, however, APEC members wield formidable economic clout.

Kith Meng, the CEO of Royal Group and an economic adviser to Hun Sen, said APEC membership would enable Cambodia to engage with powerful nations and build its international reputation as a business destination. “The benefit is that our leaders, especially Samdech Hun Sen, would be able to meet with a lot of APEC leaders,” Kith Meng said, adding that the organisation would enhance Cambodia’s appeal to international investors.

Stephen Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal Bank, noted that though the dividends of APEC status might not be immediately apparent, the intangible advantages must not be discounted. “From a trade perspective, there may not be huge direct benefits, but it gives Cambodia a seat at a very powerful table,” he said.

Developing countries like Cambodia must take every opportunity to widen the scope of their export markets and foreign investment sources, said Ren Yi, director of the Office of Research and Higher Degrees at Australia’s University of Southern Queensland.

Yi added that APEC membership would likely spur increased investment in the Kingdom from powerful bloc members such as the US, Australia and China.

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