Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol closed the two-day International Business Chamber conference in Phnom Penh on Tuesday with an impassioned speech imploring the international business community to invest in the country’s rapidly growing economy.
At the event, aimed at bringing new businesses to Cambodia, Mr. Chanthol told the roughly 200 attendees that a raft of ministerial reforms would only make the country more investor-friendly.
“We have sufficient land, labor, natural resources. The average age of Cambodians is 24…. So Cambodia has now 35 years of productive workforce…a dynamic workforce, ready to learn,” he said. “All we need is capital—from you.”
Mr. Chanthol said his ministry was working to create a system that would allow investors to register their companies and submit certificate-of-origin applications online to speed up the processes and curb under-the-table payments. A proposed e-commerce law to regulate online payments, the minister added, will be submitted to the National Assembly by the end of the year.
“You will reduce the unofficial payment or, let’s call a spade a spade, you reduce corruption,” he said.
Clint O’Connell, a partner at legal advisory firm VDB Loi, said over the past year the Commerce Ministry has already taken steps to make business practices more transparent.
“Generally speaking, the system has improved a lot, and there is a lot more transparency and accountability that wasn’t there at the ministry [previously],” he said by phone, highlighting the government’s move last year to publicly list fees that businesses must pay to authorities for various services.
But making further reforms, Mr. O’Connell added, would be “a big task.”
“Reform has only really started in the last year after years and years of not being organized and efficient,” he said.
Speaking at Tuesday’s event, Justin Tremain, managing director of Australia’s Renaissance Minerals, said Cambodia offered a wealth of opportunities in the extractive industry but was scaring off investors with its reputation for corruption.
“Whether it’s correct or not, Cambodia ranks in the lowest quartile for things like corruption. And the people that we are speaking to, to invest in our project, many…have never been to Cambodia,” Mr. Tremain said.
“All they look at is the reports and that’s what their perception is of Cambodia…and that is our biggest challenge—convincing investors about the safety of investing in Cambodia.”
Po Rattana, chairman of CLMV Capital Asia, which provides advisory and fundraising services, said on the sidelines of the conference that the event would hopefully make prospective investors more aware of Cambodia’s economic positives.
“Even my friend who is Swiss …has never come to Cambodia because he says, ‘Oh, I cannot come to your country because it has a lot of dangerous things.’ But I say, ‘If my country is so dangerous, how do investors and ambassadors come?’”