The jobs of Cambodian garment workers remain secure, even in the face of a quota-free market, said Sok Siphana, secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce, as he stressed the importance of strengthening the country’s economic relationship with China.
“It is like the businesses along National Road 6,” Sok Siphana said, referring to a popular strip of restaurants in Phnom Penh. “There are some that close and others that open, but the customers continue to flood over there,” he said.
Speaking to reporters outside a conference on Cambodia’s new membership in the World Trade Organization on Monday, Sok Siphana downplayed fears that the garment sector would flee after the expiration this year of the quota system, and stressed the benefits of WTO accession.
“While [a] few factories have closed their doors, more than 20 new factories have registered at the Commerce Ministry,” he said.
There will be some turnover, he conceded, but membership in the WTO will “keep our current market stable and our workers’ jobs secure…. If one factory closes, workers will just have to move to a factory that is open.”
Sok Siphana said the end of the quota system this year will inevitably bring some consolidation of garment factories, but that it will enhance quality control and buyers’ confidence in product standards. Trade with China, “the region’s big brother,” will also assume greater importance, he said, adding that Cambodia is already allowed to export 297 agricultural products tax free to China.
“We want our manufacturing associations to look toward the China market. It’s nearby our home,” he said.
But Commodities tycoon Mong Reththy, chairman of Mong Reththy Group Co, said he did not see the benefit of joining the WTO.
“Based on my knowledge and my experience as the owner of several companies, I can’t see any goods being exported,” he said.
He said that the government should aggressively promote agro-industry, because it is the only sector with potential for foreign investment.