Three years after joining the World Trade Organization, the value of Cambodia’s membership remained a matter of debate this week among delegates at a conference in Phnom Penh over Tuesday and Wednesday.
To some, WTO membership has been an unequivocal boon, responsible for Cambodia’s rapid GDP growth during the past two years.
“Double-digit GDP growth was a result of the WTO-integrated framework,” World Bank economist Chea Huot said in an interview at the conference, which was organized by the Geneva-based Agency for International Trade Information and Cooperation, the International Trade Center, and Cambodia’s Commerce Ministry.
Cambodia’s economy grew 13.5 percent in 2005 and around 10.5 percent in 2006, according to the International Monetary Fund.
But Kang Chandararot, director of the Cambodia Institute for Development Study, said he believed WTO membership just happened to coincide with a major unrelated factor that was boosting Cambodia’s economic growth: good weather, which led to improved agricultural productivity.
“I can see that Cambodian traders will gain advantage from the WTO in 2008,” Kang Chandararot said. “But not now. We are now in a period of preparation, not fully competitive.”
Sok Siphana, a former Commerce Ministry secretary of state who now works at the International Trade Center, a joint agency of the UN Conference on Trade and Development and the WTO, said Cambodia still needs to improve its understanding of international markets.
Cambodia’s economy must begin to move beyond raw materials to produce goods ready for consumers. “I want to urge [Cambodia’s] producers to understand the needs of the final market,” he said.
If international trade is to increase, Sok Siphana said, the government and private sector must work together to bring Cambodian products up to the world market’s standards.
Nuon Meng Tech, director-general of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, mentioned another barrier to Cambodia’s growth: corruption.
“Unofficial fees remain a bottleneck for Cambodian traders,” he said.