The opening of Cambodia to the world market as a new member of the World Trade Organization
gives this poor country some hope, if not much, to improve its economy. However,
I am a bit concerned over the newly announced ASEAN regional economic bloc (CLMV)
that comprises Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Regardless of the real political motive behind this economic bloc, I wonder how it
will benefit Cambodia, as it reminds me of a Khmer tale about two poor men who were
engaged in business cooperation.
One poor man, as the tale is told, made his living by selling palm wine and another
sold fried fresh-water shrimps on skewers as his livelihood.
One day the two bumped into each other at a corner of the city. The shrimp vender
wanted to taste palm wine, but he had only 200 riel in his pocket.
The wine seller came up with an idea: "Why don't you pay me the 200 riel and
have some wine and I will buy your shrimps in return with that money?" he said.
"That's a great idea! Why can't I think of such a simple trade deal?" replied
the shrimp vendor.
He gave the 200 riel to the palm-wine seller and emptied a glass and chewed his fried
Then the wine seller returned the money to his new trade partner and had a skewer
of fried shrimps with his wine.
The first glass of wine was a promising business transaction for the shrimp vendor.
"Hey, I still have plenty of shrimps to sell but this guy does not have any
money," he thought. "So, I must buy another glass of wine from him and
encourage him to buy more shrimps from me."
He then paid the 200 riel back to the wine seller and had another drink. Just as
the shrimp vendor thought, this only provoked the wine seller to do the same, buying
another skewer of fried shrimps with the money he'd just earned.
The two were actively engaged in seemingly lucrative business cooperation until they
had finished selling all the wine and all the fried shrimps late in the afternoon.
Unfortunately, the wine seller returned home empty-handed with no food or money for
the family. The shrimp vendor also came back home with only a pair of shorts left,
because he had even lost his 200 riel when he was drunk.
Now, I am also worried that the prospect of the economic cooperation between Cambodia,
Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, all poor countries in the region, will be like the tale
of the palm wine seller and the fried shrimp vendor.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh - Phnom Penh