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Garment, travel goods exports will stay strong, says minister

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At the Thursday signing of the renewal of the MoU are (from left to right): ILO Country Office for Thailand, Cambodia and Lao PDR director Graeme Buckley; Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak; Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Sam Heng; and GMAC president Van Sou Ieng. Heng Chivoan

Garment, travel goods exports will stay strong, says minister

Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak on Thursday expressed his optimism that garment, textile, footwear and travel goods exports will continue to enjoy strong growth over the next few years.

He cited better working conditions and labour compliance as the main drivers of the Kingdom’s industrial success.

Sorasak was speaking at the signing of the renewal of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and the Ministry Commerce, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) and the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO’s) Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) programme.

The MoU is set to expand the coverage of the travel goods and bag sector for 2020-2022.

The relevant partners’ commitment to improving working conditions, competitiveness and productivity in the textile and apparel sector, he said, will help attract investment and boost exports in the sector.

Since the BFC programme launched in 2001, Cambodia has linked trade policy with labour standards in the garment and textile sector to promote compliance with – and effective enforcement of – existing labour laws, and to promote labour rights pursuant to internationally recognised core labour standards, he said.

“Cambodia has been gaining a good reputation and is becoming a leading country in international trade policy and a role model for other countries,” Sorasak said.

Linking trade policy with labour standards “helps buyers secure trusted sources of garments in Cambodia”, attracts investment, generates jobs and increases income for workers, he said.

He noted that families’ incomes have “contributed to the strong economic growth of seven per cent per annum over the past two decades”.

ILO Country Office for Thailand, Cambodia and Lao PDR director Graeme Buckley said that over the past few years the organisation has seen a significant improvement in the Kingdom’s overall compliance, partly due to the transparent reporting of the BFC on critical issues and low compliance factories.

“The number of low compliance factories has reduced substantially since the launch of transparent reporting in 2013. [That year] 10 per cent of the factory base was low compliance factories, whereas in 2018 the percentage was two per cent,” Buckley said.

Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Sam Heng, who presided over the signing ceremony, said his ministry has always considered the BFC and GMAC to be the main stakeholders in ensuring labour rights and working conditions, and improving competitiveness and productivity in the Kingdom’s garment industry.

“The new MoU will also cover the travel goods and bags sector, and is another big step to expand its scope.

“It showcases the government’s commitment in its mission to promote working conditions in the textile, garment, travel goods and bags sector in line with the internationally recognised core labour standards and the Labour Law of Cambodia,” he said.

GMAC president Van Sou Ieng claimed that the renewed MoU marks another milestone for Cambodia in terms of its continued commitment to improving working conditions for its workforce, ensuring a thriving market of ethically sourced products and protecting its brands.

“The renewed MoU does not serve to improve the perceived low labour compliance but to further improve the already recognised level of Cambodia’s labour compliance.

“Moreover, it serves to sustain our 18-year achievement and to nobly move towards creating a ‘culture of compliance’ through knowledge and high moral standards.

“We look forward to celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ILO-BFC programme . . . and we call for the support from all stakeholders – especially our buyers – trade partner countries and the international community at large,” he said.

US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Michael Newbill, who also attended the signing, said the MoU expands the BFC programme to Cambodia’s travel goods manufacturing sector for the 2020-22 period.

“This is an important step to ensure that Cambodia maintains good working conditions and uphold workers’ rights in the growing sector,” Newbill said.

Cambodia’s exports were worth a mere $1.188 billion in 2001 before soaring to $12.895 billion last year, said Sorasak, citing the US’ and the EU’s preferential trade schemes as main drivers of the growth.

Garment and textile exports noticeably boomed from just $828 million in 2001 to $7.779 billion last year, he said.

Cambodia exported more than $7.97 billion worth of garment, textile and footwear (GTF) products in the first nine months of this year, up 13.18 per cent year-on-year from $7.044 billion, a report from the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s General Department of Customs and Excise said.

The US accounted for $2.5 billion of exports and the EU $2.4 billion – with $670 million going to the UK, Japan $711 million, Asean member states $121 million and other countries $1.5 billion, the report said.

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