Meng Saktheara, director-general of the General Department of Industry, says people need to take pride in the unique qualities of genuine Cambodian products in order to compete internationally.
That’s why Meng and the Department of Industry support the Cam-Inter Fair, which opens this Wednesday at Diamond Island and runs every day until Sunday and aims to promote small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
“In order to add value to the Cambodian agricultural market, we need also trust from consumers. Cambodia could start by winning the domestic market first, then go out and win the international market,” Meng says.
He is encouraging manufacturers of local products to bring their standards up to the same high quality produced by neighbouring countries, and to learn how to sell the product, marketing locally before going on to market internationally.
Because of the setbacks during the Khmer Rouge period, trust was lost in the consumer sector – so much so, that some Cambodian products are marketed as Thai products or the products of other nations.
“We want to promote Cambodian identity. We cannot use our product as a Chinese product and compete with the Chinese,” Meng says. “We need our own Cambodian identity.”
The context of Cambodia’s economy is that competition is based not on price but rather on quality and productivity, Meng says.
“That’s why Cambodian SMEs have to build up capacity to compete with the region and the world in technology and productivity, not on price,” he says.
“The SMEs are like boxers going in the ring to fight. The government is like the coach, providing support and training. The public, the consumers, are the fans, and they support the whole enterprise. Everybody has to play their part so we can win.”
Meng says there are 40,000 small-scale, family-based SMEs in Cambodia.
“They stay very much in isolation and, because of that, they cannot benefit from economies of scale. They need to form a cluster or network that can strengthen their economies of scale and competitiveness. FASMEC is helping the network to mobilise SMEs, and we can use this even to promote networking linkage and partnerships among SMEs.”
Meng says the SMEs spread around the country are very important because they provide very close linkage to the local economy and are ideal for promotion in terms of poverty reduction, and what Meng calls equitable allocation of economic growth.
The General Department of Industry is charged with elaborating the government’s policy on industry sector development, regulating the industry sector and implementing government intervention and support.
“We are also playing the role of secretariat to the private sector development SME sub-committee, and with this function we are responsible for co-ordination among all stakeholders in the SME sector,” Meng says.
He says the policy is for a single identity for Cambodian products that are socially responsible and compliant with social requirements; that they contain art and Cambodian culture which makes them unique and distinct; and that the quantities be exactly correct because of the Cambodian Angkorian tradition of accuracy with weights.
“Angkor Wat is very precise in its construction. We should be proud of that,’’ Meng says.
“That’s why, when we talk about 10 kilos, we want exactly 10 kilos,” he says.
“We support this SME fair to raise awareness of local SME products. Cambodia has suffered a lot in the past, and trust in Cambodian products was very low. We want to build that up.”
Meng says the new challenge of opening up the borders and facing free ASEAN trade in 2015 means that Cambodia will have to compete with other export products, especially in the agricultural sector.
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]