Cambodia's exports to the European Union increased by 40 per cent to a total value of US$1.3 billion in 2011, according to European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who is in Phnom Penh for the ASEAN-EU Business Summit.
De Gucht, 58, a Belgian lawyer and politician who served as Belgium’s minister of foreign affairs from 2004 to 2009, and later as European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, took on his current position in 2010.
“Since we have been granting a general system of preferences – which means Cambodia can export everything duty-free and quota-free to the European Union – we’ve seen a rise of 40 per cent in Cambodian exports to the EU, totalling $1.3 billion,” he said.
“These are textiles, fishery products but not that much rice. Although Cambodia is a very large rice producer, it is not really exporting it to the European Union at this time.
“I think it is fair to say that the unilateral concessions we have been granting to Cambodia, the general system of preferences has greatly contributed to the prosperity of this country.
“There is a huge market for Cambodian products.”
During the interview at Phnom Penh’s Raffles Hotel on Saturday, De Gucht recalled his visit to Phnom Penh in 1992 and said: “This is a completely different city”.
“During that time, what you saw was a lot of white jeeps [from the] United Nations, and that was the dominating element in the streets.
“The old buildings were in shambles and now you have a vibrant city . . . There is something happening here. That is very important to mention.”
De Gucht said citizens should be vigilant with respect to the kind of development that takes place in Cambodia, and should show respect for freedom.
“Things are happening here, but we should also be vigilant with respect to the kind of economic development that takes place and respect for freedoms. There are problems of land occupation.
“This is not a country without problems, but yes, something is happening here. You have to be positive-minded.
“It is not easy to rebuild a country. It is already not easy to build a poor and underdeveloped country into a prosperous one, if on top of that, as in Cambodia, you have to do that after a war.”
De Gucht said that of the “least developed countries” (LDCs) of Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, Cambodia would emerge fairly quickly.
“Out of those three, I think Cambodia will lift itself out of that status within a reasonable period of time. They will be graduating over time,” he said.
“Graduating is a technical term for seeing the country going up the value chain.
“Cambodia is moving up the value chain, they have the aspiration to become high-income countries by 2020, and there is a lot of growth in this region.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]