New US Congress May Grant Duty Free Access

The rise of the US Democrat party in both houses of the US Con­gress will complicate but not necessarily doom Cambodia’s quest to get tariff-free access to the US market, a key Washington lobbyist said Friday.

The Democrats, who are traditionally seen as protectionist in their trade policies, will have ma­jority control of the House of Rep­re­sentatives and Senate in the US in January.

“Prospects…are not good this year, but I do not believe the pros­pects are worse next year under a Democrat-controlled Congress,” Brenda Jacobs of the firm Sidley Austin.

Jacobs, whose firm is the chief lobbyist for the US retail clothing industry, said that in the House of Representatives, the powerful Ways and Means Committee will be headed by Democrat Charles Rangel of New York next year and he may be sympathetic to Cam­bodia.

This week the Economic Insti­tute of Cambodia estimated that Cambodia could gain 146,000 jobs simply through the elimination of the 20 percent tariffs on its garments going to its chief buyer, the US.

“Congressman Rangel…is a strong supporter of using trade legislation to promote development, as evidenced by his support for trade preferences for Haiti and Africa,” Jacobs wrote in an email. Rangel, she said, will likely hold discussions on preferential trade access, in which Cambodia should participate.

“The Senate may be a tougher battlefield, but again there is a genuine interest in making effective use of US preference programs,” she added.

Garment Manufacturers Asso­ciation Secretary-General Ken Loo said that he believes the Demo­crats’ victory bodes well for Cam­bodia.

“Our chances are better under the new Democrat Congress and Senate,” he wrote in an email. “We continue to work with our lobby firm on this.”

Sok Sopheak, the deputy director-general of the Ministry of Commerce’s technical department, now heads the Cambodian government’s push for duty-free access to the US. Sok Sopheak was unavailable for comment Friday.


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