CAMBODIA must further integrate with its East Asian neighbours for future economic development, said Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon.
The financial crisis highlighted the need to diversify production, and Asia’s markets are ripe for increased Cambodian exports, he said.
“The strengthening and deepening of integration in East Asia … is indispensible,” he said.
Speaking at the 7th annual Asia Economic Forum in Phnom Penh on Saturday, the minister highlighted the Kingdom’s efforts to increase transport linkages with its neighbours, such as the missing 257 kilometre rail link from Phnom Penh to Loc Ninh, Vietnam, which would allow trains to travel from Singapore to Kunming, China.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Kao Kim Hourn urged Cambodia to focus on developing its export industries, aiming particularly at fellow ASEAN member states.
“The Cambodian economy is small and that’s why we have to reach out to other regional economies,” he said.
ASEAN members have pledged to remove tariffs and quotas by 2015, aiming to create a single market for the bloc’s 600 million people.
Keat Chhon said bilateral disputes, such as at the border, “have become the foremost critical challenge for ASEAN”.
He said a dispute mechanism should be established to reduce the problem in the future.
Economic Institute of Cambodia President Sok Hach said the Kingdom’s agricultural industry is crucial to its future economic growth. “Cambodia’s rice industry has huge implications for the economy,” he said.
US Ambassador Carol Rodley praised Cambodia’s efforts to develop its agriculture industry, pointing to it as an area of future growth.
“There’s a remarkable story of economic development that has gone on in the rice sector of Cambodia,” she said. “In 2000, Cambodia exported zero rice. In 2009, Cambodia exported over 800,000 tonnes.”
However, Rodley said it would be difficult for Cambodia to export rice to the US, as the country had a robust rice-production industry of its own.
“Our producers are very efficient,” she said. “They also have the benefit of much cheaper energy prices, better technology and easy access to improved inputs, so it’s going to be a struggle for Cambodia and other developing countries to compete in that particular market.”