A four-day trade fair aimed at spotlighting local products and promoting import and export opportunities opened on Diamond Island yesterday, with Cambodian products drowned out by the sea of imported goods on display, local exhibitors complained.
More than 250 local and international enterprises and government agencies – with a total of 381 display booths – are participating in the 10th Cambodia Import-Export & One Province One Product Exhibition, which runs through Friday.
The annual trade exhibition is aimed at promoting trade and investment, especially export activities that contribute to Cambodian economic development, according to its organiser, the Ministry of Commerce’s General Directorate of Trade Promotion (GDTP).
“This trade event will create more opportunities and strong impetus to local trading activities, and establish trade linkages between the municipality and provinces throughout Cambodia, and between Cambodian and foreign traders,” GDTP announced on its Facebook page.
At its heart is the concept of “one province, one product”, where entire communities focus on producing a single, high-quality product for sale.
However, some local exhibitors claim the annual trade fair does little to promote Cambodian products, and over the years has increasingly become just another sales platform for imported goods.
“Before we had just local products, but now it’s mostly foreign goods,” complained Chea Piseth, head of the Svay Kal Organic Cashew Farmer Association.
“It’s difficult to promote our products when there are so many products from abroad to compete with.”
Susanne Thoma, chief of marketing and product development for Kam Spices, said this year’s exhibition was heavily focused on imports, which was useful for traders but did little to support local SMEs.
“It’s good for Cambodian businesses that want to import machinery or technical products, but our local products should be promoted better,” she said.
Thoma said Cambodian products suffer from lack of marketing resources, especially in the provinces.
“The organiser should empower Cambodian businesses and support them,” she said.
Te Taing Por, president of the Federation of Associations for Small and Medium Enterprises of Cambodia (FASMEC), said more attention should be given to promoting local products rather than highlighting imported ones.
“If we want to promote local products we should put more focus on them, and at they should at least be the majority of the [exhibition’s] products,” he said.
“It’s difficult to promote our products with such a large amount of imported ones [on display].”
A Ministry of Commerce official, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to comment on the exhibition, said the annual trade fair was never intended to be solely about local products – as reflected in its voluminous name, “Import-Export & One Province One Product Exhibition.”
“It is not wrong [to focus on imports] because we import more than we export,” the official said.
“We are a free market economy, so we encourage [foreign companies] to do business in our country while simultaneously pushing to help our local products, but we cannot close our economy.”
The official said that competition was good for local businesses and ultimately strengthens them.
“It improves our local products when we showcase them together [with imports],” he said. “Imported products are usually better quality and cheaper, so the buyer will choose the better product. But with more competition, local producers will find ways to develop and improve their products.”
Economist Srey Chanthy also sees long-term value in competition, and said exhibitions that mix Cambodian and foreign products could lead to invaluable technical transfer and linkages between local and foreign companies.
“Exhibitions of foreign products can give local producers a chance to learn from those foreign products, such as how to manufacture better, and they can partner with foreign firms.”