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US investment poised to increase

US investment poised to increase

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Lawrence Spinelli, director of public affairs at Overseas Private Investment Corporation, speaks to reporters this week.

Cambodia is poised to see an increase in United States investment as the world financial crisis recedes, according to Overseas Private Investment Corporation director of public affairs Lawrence Spinelli.

The world’s economic downturn had hit the Kingdom particularly hard, while restricting access to credit for American firms planning to expand abroad, he said on Monday.

“We were starting to see an increase of potential US investors when the crisis hit. Some took their plans and their ideas and sort of kept them on the shelf for the moment,” he said.

“With the global economic recession diminishing, I think more and more businesses are looking for expansion, and I think there are great opportunities here in Cambodia."

Spinelli is touring Southeast Asia in advance of a May conference in Jakarta aimed at promoting the OPIC to potential investors, both American and international.

OPIC – which is a United States government agency - provides longer-term financing for American investors locating in emerging markets, particularly when the projects cannot receive financing through traditional lenders such as the banks.  

It also provides long-term risk insurance.

OPIC claims to have a current portfolio totalling US$13 billion. It can operate in 155 countries worldwide with exceptions such as developed countries and North Korea, Cuba and China - from which Congress had barred it from operating to voice its displeasure with the handling of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

The US has been increasingly targeting Asia since the election of Barack Obama as US President, he said, adding that in the prior four to eight years “I don’t think Asia was regarded as much of a priority for the US government”.

OPIC currently does not yet  finance an investment in Cambodia, but is in talks with several US companies regarding ventures in the Kingdom’s tourism, infrastructure, energy, and financial services sector, he claimed, but declined to provide a timeline.

Spinelli said OPIC is required to follow stringent regulations government concerns such as environment, labour law, and the extraction industry, but downplayed concerns following these rules gave US business a disadvantage compared with other economies.

“In the longer term, I don’t think it does put us at a competitive disadvantage, because it is the right thing to do,” he said.

Spinelli met with officials from the government and the American Chamber of Commerce during his Phnom Penh visit, partly to introduce the OPIC and encourage attendance at the conference.

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