Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that Asean must oppose the economic protectionism policies of wealthy countries that threaten developing countries like Cambodia.
“The rich countries have exported to the least-developed countries and in return when the least-developing countries want to export back, there are barriers,” Hun Sen told students at a graduation ceremony at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
“We are condemning this conservative policy because this policy has caused difficulty for least-developed countries in exporting their products,” the prime minister said.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will protest against such measures during an economic summit on the global economic crisis in London April 2, Hun Sen said.
The prime minister did not specifically mention which export sectors in Cambodia are being hurt or name specific countries that are engaging in protectionism.
Still, as the global economic crisis has taken hold, countries around the world have been criticized for policies that lean toward protectionism. Europe, India and Brazil for example have raised tariffs on steel, while Russia has increased import barriers on cars, farm machinery and other products.
But some economists say the risk of adverse effects from protectionism on the Cambodian economy remains small.
Most protectionism is not focusing on Cambodia’s main drivers of growth—tourism and garments— Asian Development Bank senior country economist Eric Sidgwick wrote in a Wednesday e-mail.
Kang Chandararot, executive director of the Cambodian Institute of Development Study, said that Cambodia’s garment sector, one of the few items the country actually exports, is not at risk because rich countries rely on poor countries for garments.
But Cambodia’s future expansion into other sectors, such as light manufacturing, could have trouble getting off the ground because of protectionism.
But for now, “Of the status quo we are not so much in danger,” he added.
Cambodia actually has a very limited amount of exports which makes it particularly vulnerable to the world economic crisis, according to news release from the World Bank from earlier this year.
But like all least-developed countries Cambodia has duty-free access to the European Union for all products but arms, said Rafael Dochao Moreno, Charge d’Affaires of the European Commission Delegation in Cambodia, according to news release.
The World Bank news release earlier this year also announced a $12 million grant for Cambodia intended to remove trade barriers and improve the standard of Cambodian exports.
At the ceremony Wednesday, Hun Sen also criticized the World Bank’s plans for a library at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. He said the World Bank plans to spend $1.9 million on a library similar to one built by the government for just $400,000, and accused the Bank of using Cambodia as an excuse to pad the salaries of expensive consultants.
“Cambodia is nursing them because we are poor. If they gave us this money, we would have spent only $1 million. That is enough,” he said.
World Bank Spokesman Bou Saroeun did not respond to a request to comment Wednesday.
Royal University rector Lav Chhiv Eav said the World Bank’s project has been delayed for two years because the engineer, hired by the World Bank, had a dispute with a Cambodian engineer.
A new engineer has been hired and the bidding process will begin soon, he said by telephone.