Commerce Minister Calls for Review of Regional Trade Deal

Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol on Monday asked the World Bank and the European Union to review a trio of new trade agreements with Cambodia’s neighbors to determine what impact the deals would have on the country’s exports.

Speaking at a meeting on trade at the Commerce Ministry, Mr. Chanthol said the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement (FTA) between Vietnam and the E.U., and the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade benefits being extended to Burma could all impact Cambodia’s economy.

“We need to do analysis: What are impacts of TPP on Cambodia in terms of trade prospects?” the commerce minister said of the ambitious global trade deal being pushed by U.S. President Barack Obama, which has met bitter resistance in Washington.

“Recently, Vietnam also signed the FTA with the E.U. Again, what are the impacts on Cambodia in terms of trade?” he said. “The study should include the analysis of the impacts of EBA with Myanmar on Cambodia.”

Mr. Chanthol said Cambodia was also looking to begin negotiations for its own free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which is comprised of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

“I am pleased to inform you that our prime minister agrees [for] us to start the process of negotiation with the EEU,” Mr. Chanthol said. “We also want you to analyze [whether it] would make sense

for Cambodia to enter into FTAs with Canada, U.S. and other countries, because we are a part of regional FTAs.”

Alassane Sow, the World Bank’s country manager, and Fiona Ramsey, head of cooperation for the E.U. delegation in Cambodia, said during the event they were prepared to assist the Commerce Ministry.

Jayant Menon, the Asian Development Bank’s principal economist for regional economic integration, said by telephone that Cambodia should not be overly concerned by the agreements mentioned by the commerce minister.

“I don’t think Cambodia should worry at all about the TPP, assuming it happens,” he said. “Nor should it worry about trying to join it at this stage. Regulatory issues, intellectual property—Cambodia is not yet in a position to try to meet those type of standards yet.”

Mr. Menon said the main constraint to Cambodian exports was the quality of its goods, and that it should focus on meeting international standards rather than on negotiating new trade deals.

“Cambodia is a highly open economy, they should focus on upholding their WTO [World Trade Organization] commitments,” he said. “They need to focus on that because that is where they are getting most of their benefits.”

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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