The ratification of Cambodia's membership to the World Trade Organization (WTO)
is unlikely to happen before the garment industry preferential US quota is
removed on January 1, 2005, said opposition lawmaker Son Chhay.
a National Assembly was convened shortly, there would be insufficient time for
members to adequately consider the challenging issues of full WTO
"I think that lawmakers need time to study the WTO issues
before providing a ratification," said Chhay.
"We don't think the WTO is
bad, but we oppose the government because of its lack of political will to
implement what it has promised," said Chhay, a member of the Sam Rainsy Party,
referring to a lack of enforcement of previous reforms.
Chhay called on
Cambodian People's Party government officials to distribute more information to
Chhim Narith, under-secretary of State of the
Ministry of Commerce and a member of Funcinpec, said that a lack of human
resources has hampered the government's ability to work with the WTO
"We are now under the pressure of political deadlock and we don't
manage an institution to deal with the private sectors and to build a consistent
legal system to speed up economic reforms to meet WTO requirements," said
Requests for information regarding the WTO are generally
referred to Cham Prasidh, Minister of Commerce or to his secretary of state and
WTO negotiator, Sok Siphana.
Siphana would not comment to the Post.
But Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters on May 14 that Cambodia was
ready to join the international market, despite the challenges.
many jobs to do and our competitiveness with the foreign market is not an easy
work," said Hun Sen.
Hun Sen's comments came the same day as a conference
to discuss Cambodia's accession to the WTO organized by The Asia Foundation
(TAF) and attended by government legal and commercials experts, international
experts, representatives from the private sector and NGOs.
released by TAF at the conference said the prospects for significant and
sustainable benefits from the WTO are limited by the need for strong
institutional reforms to enhance economic governance.
The WTO membership
is expected to help Cambodia attract foreign investment and increase its
competitiveness in the international market and is seen by the donor community
as a way to accelerate the pace of important economic, democratic and legal
reforms, said the TAF report.
Franck Wiebe, chief economist at the Asia
Foundation, said joining the WTO will provide new incentives to invest in human
resources and increase Cambodia's economic competitiveness.
Director of the Economic Institute of Cambodia (EIC), told the Post on May 14
that economic integration might be very beneficial for Cambodia, but it also
posed a great challenge.
"We have many potential resources to boost
industrial development, but the government must have a strong political will to
make reforms to public administration, because everyone knows the public
administration is corrupted," Sok Hach said.
Mark Storella, chargé
d'affaires at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, said in his speech on May 14 that
business activities based on corruption and nepotism cannot compete in today's
Van Sou Ieng, the president of the Garment Manufacturers
Association in Cambodia, said informal costs hurt companies' budgets and
estimated that 200 garment factories pay a total of $20 million every year for
what he termed "bureaucratic expenses".
"The problem of corruption and
bureaucracy in government will make for difficulty in competition in the field
of the garment industry in Cambodia when the quota is phased out by the end of
2004," he said.
Ieng called on the government to stop the numerous and
costly inspections that slow down the transportation of goods.
has committed itself to a raft of legal reforms covering a wide range of
business activities that are scheduled to be approved over the next two years.
However Son Chhay said there had been little progress on the
anti-corruption agenda and many other necessary reforms dealing with commerce,
tax and investment law had not occurred.
Chhay also questioned whether a
more even business playing field would benefit a small global player such as
Cambodia, highlighting last year's trade with China, which saw $400 million
worth of imports and only $20 million in exports.
There is no limit to
the number of times countries can request an extension to their schedule for
ratifying WTO membership, WTO officials said during a journalist training course
in Geneva last month.
Cambodia became the first Least Developed Country
(LCD) to be admitted to the WTO in September last year. The deadline for
ratification by the National Assembly was March 10, 2004.
granted an extension until September 30, 2004.
In the meantime Nepal,
which completed WTO negotiations after Cambodia, became the first LDC to join
the global trade body on April 23.