Commerce Minister, US Ambassador Swap Praise After Trade Trip

U.S. Ambassador William Todd and Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol praised each other for their dedication to the development of the Cambodian economy at a press conference in Phnom Penh on Monday, following a joint trade mission last month to the U.S.

Mr. Todd and Mr. Chanthol, who was promoted to his position after last year’s disputed national election, visited Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle and Washington between June 16 and 20 in order to coax U.S.-owned companies to invest in Cambodia.

At the press conference, Mr. Chanthol recounted Mr. Todd’s verve in organizing a number of meetings with firms including Chevron, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and General Electric, where Mr. Chanthol served as an executive before returning to Cambodia in 1994.

“During the presentations, I made a statement that when I come back to Cambodia I will need to talk to our prime minister to nominate Ambassador Todd to be our expert or an official on the CDC,” he said, referring to the Council for the Development of Cambodia.

“He’s done such a great job making presentations…in terms of the investment opportunities in the country and I really appreciate that, ambassador. You’ve done such a tremendous job for us,” he said.

Mr. Todd spoke more briefly, crediting Mr. Chanthol’s commitment to ridding the ruling CPP of corruption and achieving Prime Minister Hun Sen’s various economic goals.

“In terms of our Senior Minister and Minister of Commerce Sun Chanthol, every senior meeting we had, he would bring a bag of rice,” Mr. Todd told the press conference. “He would tell everybody it was the best bright rice in the world, that it won a competition in Hong Kong, and it’s the most fragrant in the world.”

Mr. Todd also said that with “the reforms Minister Chanthol and the rest of the government are doing,” the investment climate in Cambodia could be ripe for a slew of U.S. companies to move in.

“You have a dollarized economy here; you’re able to repatriate your revenue; if you make money you can take it with you; you can basically have 100 percent foreign ownership; there are tax preferences here in Cambodia that are frankly better than in the region,” Mr. Todd said.

The U.S. has still not officially congratulated Prime Minister Hun Sen for his victory in last year’s election and has called for a “full and transparent” investigation into reported irregularities.

In January, U.S. President Barack Obama signed off on a bill that included a provision suspending some funding to the government until an independent election investigation is carried out, or the opposition CNRP ends their boycott of parliament.

Mr. Chanthol said his trip with Mr. Todd, which included a meeting with William Burns, the deputy U.S. secretary of state, showed that there was, in practice, little animosity between the two governments.

“You can see that since the election, the two governments have been working very close together, so there is no discontinuation of the relationship between Cambodia and the U.S.,” he said. “So that leaves that.”

Mr. Todd said he looked forward to an end to the deadlock between the CPP and the CNRP.

“Frankly, I think companies are looking for resolution, and once there’s resolution I believe the market’s going to take off,” he said. “Many businesses are…waiting for the time for resolution, and they’re expecting it to come, and when it does, they will come to Cambodia.”

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