Assembly OKs Philippine Trade Agreement

The National Assembly has approved a trade agreement with the Philippines, which lawmakers say will help Cambodia develop and diversify its economy.

The agreement, which will set up an independent arbitrator to settle disputes between Phili­ppine investors and Cambodian officials, will make Cam­bodia’s agriculture and tourist industries more attractive to Filipino speculators, lawmakers said. The agreement sets up bilateral invest­ment laws between the two countries.

Parliamentarians had voiced concern over Cambodia’s economic dependence on the garment industry, saying that over-reliance on textiles will become worse if Cambodia is left out of the World Trade Organization in 2005.

“If we cannot join the WTO by Jan­uary 2005, we will have a problem with the quotas on garment products,” Sok Chenda Sophea, secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cam­bodia, told legislators.

To maximize the benefits of Asean’s open markets, lawmakers said, Cambodia must diversify its economy. The agreement, ratified Friday, will help in that pro­cess, lawmakers said.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he agreed with diversification, but argued that human re­source development is the main force of economic growth and deserves attention.

During discussions, Sam Rainsy also criticized Cambodia’s so-called open sky policy, which led to Siem Reap airport being opened for international flights.

While supporters of the policy claimed that giving tourists direct flights to Siem Reap would help develop the tourist industry, Sam Rainsy said tourists ought to be forced to fly into Phnom Penh first, thus ensuring traffic in other destinations in the country.

Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh defended the policy, saying that it has been a boon to the tourist industry.

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