French foreign trade minister Anne-Marie Idrac arrived in Phnom Penh on Wednesday as part of the French government’s effort to boost bilateral ties with Cambodia, a process agreed upon during Prime Minister Hun Sen’s official visit to Paris in July last year.
During a visit yesterday afternoon to the construction site where French luxury hotel group Accor is building a new Sofitel Hotel on the banks of the Bassac River in Chamkar Mon district, Ms Idrac said France would aim at diversifying its economic presence in Cambodia.
“The stage of development now in Cambodia has become more amenable,” said Ms Idrac at a press conference at Accor’s construction site.
Just one week after France pledged a total of $23.5 million in official development aid at the Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum – the total amount from all donors was $1.1 billion – Ms Idrac said that France’s role in Cambodia’s development would emphasize investment in the private sector.
“We look to create jobs and we look to carry out a modern development…by looking at what is missing from the businesses here,” she said, adding that further investment in agricultural production such as rice and sugar could be expected, especially in the light of new regulations implemented in September permitting zero tariffs on rice exported from Cambodia to the EU.
“Trade is a way to develop responsibility, develop the private sector, to develop big and small companies,” she said.
Ms Idrac also said that the telecommunication giant France Telecom had engaged in discussions with a partner in Cambodia but did not elaborate on whether or not they had come to any fruition or with whom negotiations were held.
Ms Idrac arrived in Cambodia after trips to Malaysia and Singapore and held meetings on Wednesday with Finance Minister Keat Chhon and Cabinet Minister Sok An. Ms Idrac also met with Secretary-General of the Council for the Development of Cambodia Sok Chenda, during which she said she conveyed France’s interest in the continued development of the tourism and agricultural sector.
Yesterday morning she inaugurated a rice milling factory in Oudong just outside Phnom Penh, which in 2009 had received a $7 million loan from the French government’s development arm Agence Francaise de Developpement and will soon begin exporting rice to the French island La Reunion.
“Of course we aim to increase the level of quality,” she said. “The exportability of rice is key in this project.”
When asked by a reporter about her opinion on recent questions raised over where payments made to the government by French oil firm Total had gone she said that she had “no particular information” on Total’s business activities in Cambodia.
In April Hun Sen announced that Total had paid $28 million to the government of which $8 million went toward a social fund that Total said would be aimed at “general health, education, culture and welfare for the people of Cambodia.”
Ms Idrac said yesterday there was little reason to believe that the company would do otherwise.
“They [Total] are used to contributing to the local development. It is part of their philosophy,” she said.