Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Key MFN vote passed "to put country back on track"

Key MFN vote passed "to put country back on track"

Key MFN vote passed "to put country back on track"

THE powerful US Senate Finance Committee has unanimously ad-opted the bill granting

Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status to Cambodia.

The next step, that of a full and favorable Senate vote, should be a formality, observers

say.

The Finance Committee did not tie it's May 8 approval to Cambodia's political situation

however - more in spite of it, and in the hope that MFN "would help put the

country back on the right track."

Committee Chairman William Roth said: "In fact, the committee's members made

it clear that they had serious concerns about increasing acts of repression by the

Cambodian government and [in the] growth in corruption that has contributed to substantial

environmental degradation.

"The committee has sent an unambiguous signal that Congress is watching developments

in Cambodia extremely closely," Roth said.

"My colleagues and I have been very troubled by actions of the current Cambodian

regime which have stunted the country's democratic evolution, destroyed much of the

nation's environment and permitted corruption and drug trafficking to run rampant.

"We hope that extending MFN to the Cambodian people will help them put their

country back on the right track," Roth said.

The bill extending MFN was passed unanimously, but with significant amendments.

The Post has obtained a copy of the original MFN draft, and handwritten changes that

were subsequently adopted.

In Section 1, Congressional Findings, the original draft was: "1) Cambodia is

now under democratic rule after 20 years of undemocratic regimes and civil war, and

is striving to rebuild its market economy."

That was amended to read: "Despite recent increases in acts of repression by

the Cambodian Government and growing government corruption that has contributed to

substantial environmental degradation, Cambodia has made some progress toward democratic

rule after 20 years of undemocratic regimes and civil war, and is striving to rebuild

its market economy."

Section 4 was originally: "Expanding bilateral trade relations that includes

a commercial agreement will promote further progress by Cambodia on human rights

and toward adoption of regional and world trading rules and principles."

That now reads: "Expanding bilateral trade relations that includes a commercial

agreement may promote further progress by Cambodia on human rights and democratic

rule and will assist Cambodia in adopting regional and world trading rules and principles."

The lobbying of civil rights and environmental groups in Washington has been strong

enough at least to keep the committee debating long and hard about the bill's eventual

approval.

Such lobbying has ensured the bill has amendments that will be a sharp warning to

the Royal Government to try and keep its house in order.

Should the committee's approval be the most difficult step toward Capitol Hill's

full approval of MFN, Cambodia will have status worth billions of dollars of investment

per year.

"I'm more than excited," Commerce Ministry undersecretary of state Lu Laysreng

said. "It will mean thousands upon thousands of jobs for our people."

"Approving this kind of status will go straight to the grassroots. MFN will

be worth millions upon millions of dollars, and it is better than aid," he said.

MFN would see Cambodian exports to the US attract 30 to 40 per cent lower import

duties than present.

Currently, Cambodian exports are subjected to tariffs of 50 per cent or more, which

is the highest rates the US can charge. If the Generalized System of Preference (GSP)

- a status that goes hand in hand with MFN - is approved, many Cambodian exports

would attract no tariffs.

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