A senior official at the World Economic Forum (WEF) has expressed support for Cambodia’s chairmanship of ASEAN, committing efforts to find ways of helping the Kingdom achieve its goals in the fields of digital commerce and investment facilitation, the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on March 2.

At a meeting with Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak on March 2, WEF head of regional agenda for the Asia-Pacific and executive committee member Lee Joo-ok said that the forum would continue to lend its support to Cambodia in its quest to help realise the ASEAN Economic Community’s vision of free flow of goods, services, investment, capital, and skilled labour within the bloc, according to the statement.

Lee acknowledged the cooperation as being mutually beneficial, particularly with regards to unexplored trade opportunities. “The WEF intends to be a cooperative partner with ASEAN because it is a potential region for global supply, as well as a place which will host an annual meeting of the WEF in the near future,” he was quoted as saying.

Sorasak lauded the cooperative relationship between Cambodia and the WEF, as he highlighted the active participation of the Kingdom’s delegation in previous iterations of the forum, as well as in the most recent one.

He reserved particular praise for the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation (GATF) partnership under the WEF, between the Ministry of Commerce and the NGO Swisscontact, for its importance in helping achieve some of the Kingdom’s goals in the digital trade sector.

The minister also touched on the official launch of the government’s Digital Economy and Social Policy Framework 2021-2035 two years ago, which set a long-term vision of building the Kingdom’s economy and establishing a vibrant digital society.

It laid the foundation to promote digital adoption after the Covid-19 crisis within all spheres of society – including ordinary citizens and businesspeople – to drive economic growth and improve social welfare as society moves to living with the coronavirus being endemic in the “new normal”, he said.

“To maximise further benefit from digital commerce, Cambodia has passed a number of laws, such as relating to e-commerce, consumer protection and competition,” the statement quoted the minister as saying.

Sorasak said that the WEF’s cooperation has been particularly beneficial in establishing the GATF as well as the recently launched upgrade project of e-commerce for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) on February 8.

Lee subsequently had a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen on March 3, in which the latter reflected that were it not for the global Covid-19 epidemic, Cambodia would have made even more progress, according to a statement issued by the premier later that day.

Hun Sen touted the country’s high vaccination rate and early reopening to foreign visitors by global standards, as he noted that the Cambodian economy was expected to grow by around 5.6 per cent this year.

The prime minister said that in his capacity as leader of the bloc’s chair, “what I want is for ASEAN to work together to reopen the region simultaneously, to spur regional trade and develop complementary national economies, especially as we move towards living with Covid-19”.

He also took the opportunity to suggest the benefits of the “plus one” business model, in which enterprises could expand supply chain networks developed in one country into others.

This could build a buffer for businesses to deal with supply shocks brought about by major threats such as Covid-19, and better enable countries to aid and alleviate partner nations’ supply issues and ensure market stability when met with such crises, he said.

He noted that such arrangements could attract more investment in the region’s digital sector, which had been growing rapidly until the onset of the global pandemic.