Prime Minister Hun Sen questioned yesterday the extent of the ASEAN Economic Community’s (AEC) commitment towards forming an inclusive economic region as countries continue to compete with each other for agricultural exports and inflows of foreign direct investment.
During his speech at the first World Economic Forum on East Asia since the AEC came into effect at the end of last year, the prime minister was quick to note the challenges of regional integration.
“We are concerned that the ASEAN Economic Community still has many challenges. If we talk about the one market, it is a big [one], but one should not forget that ASEAN consists of less developed countries and high developed countries,” he said yesterday at the summit held in Malaysia.
He explained that for less developed countries striving to climb up the economic ladder, attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) is essential. “We need to find coordination and partnership, so that we can guarantee that we can all get a piece of the meat,” he said.
Although the Kingdom’s stable GDP growth of 7 per cent a year proved that the economy could weather such storms as a Chinese slowdown, the prime minister argued that competition within the Greater Mekong sub-region for food exports hindered Cambodia’s bottom line.
“ASEAN is competing with itself,” he said. “If Vietnam drops the price [of food exports], Cambodia drops the price, Thailand drops the price and Myanmar drops the price, finally our production gets little profit.”
The prime minister also addressed labour concerns among ASEAN member states, saying that for countries that export labour, especially to Malaysia, “We need to think of a safety network among ASEAN countries.”
Unlike last year’s summit held in Jakarta, the prime minister did not raise concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regulatory trade framework that excludes the Kingdom.
Cambodia, which was the last member to join ASEAN in 1999, has remained a vociferous proponent of inclusive-growth strategies for poverty reduction.
For the first time, Cambodia will host the World Economic Forum next year, a milestone that the Kingdom’s business community said will put Cambodia higher up on investor’s radars.