Global Turmoil May Slow Cambodian Progress

Industry and trade leaders from Asia’s developing countries gathered Tuesday in Phnom Penh to trade expertise on economic growth and poverty reduction, but while they—Cambodia in particular—are actively diminishing pover­ty by adding jobs, the world’s mounting economic crisis could hamper progress, Cambodian and UN authorities said.

“This exchange of experiences is more important as the world is geared towards a painful and unprecedented global financial crisis, with stock markets falling, banks crumbling, companies selling off, fewer imports, fewer exports, fewer investments, fewer buyers, fewer consumers, fewer spenders and many more people thrown into poverty around the world,” said Minister of Com­merce Cham Prasidh during his keynote speech, which opened the three-day conference in Phnom Penh.

“We are living in uncertain circumstances, and only those who can adapt themselves to the changes will survive,” Cham Prasidh said.

Of the 49 “least developed countries” in the world, 14 are in the Asia-Pacific region, said Habib Ouane, director of the UN Confer­ence on Trade and Development’s least developed countries program in Africa.

“Since the 1990s, many Asian LDCs have been reasonably successful in achieving structural change with industry and services playing an increasing role in the economies through the expansion of manufacturing, of economic diversification, triggering employment growth, mostly in the industrial sector,” he told the conference audience, which included leaders from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Laos, the Maldives, Burma and Nepal.

Even so, “69 percent of [people in] Asian LDCs live on less than $2 a day,” he said, leaving “no room for complacency,” especially when it comes to adding technology development as a way to foster economic growth.

Cambodia has made progress toward poverty reduction, Cham Prasidh said.

The economy grew at an average rate of 9.4 percent between 2000 and 2006, he said. And foreign investment increased from $33 million in 1992, to $149 million in 2000, to $483 million in 2006, up to $2.7 billion in 2007, all the way to $8.9 billion from January to August 2008, he added.

Meanwhile, Cambodia’s poverty rate decreased, dropping from 45 percent in 1993 to 35 percent in 2004, down to 31 percent in 2007, Cham Prasidh said.

“Every year, we have been able to lower poverty by 1 percent [in Cambodia]. If something is happening with a global financial crisis, it could affect this 1 percent progress,” Cham Prasidh said in an interview.

“This is something that is very worrisome. So, that’s why for Cam­bodia and all the other [least developed countries], we need a concerted effort to make our voice heard by the developed countries and be supported properly,” he said.

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