Cambodia must join the World Trade Organization quickly, or face economic marginalization and eventual death, Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh told lawmakers Thursday.
“If we don’t join the WTO, we will die in five years time,” Cham Prasidh said.
The minister went before the assembly to brief them on his recent trip to Geneva for the country’s latest round of WTO negotiations and to answer questions about Cambodia’s economy.
Some lawmakers were critical of Cambodia’s lobbying attempts to join the international trade forum, which grants its member nations equal trade status and the reduction of trade barriers.
Cham Prasidh dispelled rumors from some officials that his ministry had spent as much as $5 million on its efforts to join.
“So far, joining the WTO has cost the Cambodian government about $70,000,” he said, adding the funds came from a portion of the money the government earns from auctioning US garment quotas to textile factories.
“We did not use this money to pay or bribe any WTO member,” the minister said.
“The money only went for hotel and transportation,” Cham Prasidh said after the meeting.
“The opposition expresses reluctance because we are moving too fast…so I have to explain to them that this is globalization; we can’t be marginalized. We need to open markets in order to survive,” the minister said.
There are 49 developing countries waiting to join the WTO, he said. Among them, Cambodia is at the front of the line, but has much work to do in structuring its laws to meet WTO standards.
The government must pass around 30 laws in order to be accepted into the WTO, such as legislation for the protection of intellectual property, bankruptcy and arbitration, among others.
Funcinpec parliamentarian Nan Sy said the Ministry of Commerce has not encouraged domestic production.
Thai produce are competing with Cambodia’s farmers in Cambodian markets, critics said.
The Ministry of Commerce is currently seeking ways to expand its export markets, such as diversifying agricultural production and creating export processing zones.
(Additional reporting by Matt Reed)