The journey Cambodia has embarked on to join the World Trade Organization is like running a marathon, according to Suos Someth.
“You may not be the winner, but you will run the 42 kilometers like the others instead of staying outside the competition and watching the others run,” he said, adding that the steps the country has to take to join the organization will transform Cambodia long before it reaches the finish line.
Suos Someth is about to become Cambodia’s first permanent representative to the WTO and ambassador to the UN agencies located in Geneva. The subdecree confirming his appointment was signed by King Norodom Sihanouk on July 18, and the UN has approved it.
Suos Someth will be busy dealing with UN organizations based in Geneva. There are more than 20 of them, including the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Labor Organization, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Health Organization.
Suos Someth also will be paving the way for Cambodia to be admitted into the WTO, a process which, if successful, will take about three years, he said.
Economically, Cambodia’s situation compares to conditions in other developing nations, he said, based on his experience working in numerous countries during nearly three decades with the Asian Development Bank.
An economist who studied in the US, he returned home in 1968 to work at the National Bank of Cambodia. Late in 1970 he joined the ADB and left Cambodia.
In the early 1990s, Suos Someth coordinated an economic rehabilitation project of Cambodia. In 1996, he became the ADB country representative in Phnom Penh. He left the ADB in 1999 to serve as president of the Supreme National Economic Council. He will retain the title of honorary chairman of the council.
In Suos Someth’s opinion, Cambodia’s progress should be viewed optimistically.
“Economically, Cambodia is 9 years old,” he said, since the country’s human resources, institutions and legal structures were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime. It takes a long time to rebuild a nation, he said.
Economic growth indicators may paint a bleak picture. But according to Suos Someth, “they are only indicators to say where we are going.”
He also said the accuracy of the figures themselves is sometimes debatable.
In seeking WTO membership, Cambodia is not alone among countries classified by the UN as least developed. Bhutan, Cape Verde, Laos, Nepal, Samoa, Sudan, Vanuatu and Yemen also have started the admission process. Thirty of the 49 least developed nations already are WTO members.
The WTO has 142 members. It is the only global organization that deals with rules of trade among nations, as agreed upon by member countries. It sets international standards for business and trade regulations around the world. WTO membership ensures investors and businessmen that those standards are enforced in member countries.
In Cambodia, it will mean adopting and enforcing about 40 pieces of legislation, including patent and copyright protection, product standards, and mechanisms for law enforcement and legal recourse.
These steps will be taken not just for the sake of joining the WTO, but first and foremost to benefit the country, said Sok Siphana, secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce. Putting these laws in place will make the country “sellable” to business people and may attract foreign investment, he said.
Meeting international standards will also require reducing corruption and establishing procedures for transparency in bids and contract negotiations, tax and customs collection, and other business permit processes.
Suos Someth said those issues will be addressed, adding that Prime Minister Hun Sen is determined to take the necessary measures to join the WTO because he believes that Cambodia will greatly benefit from it.
With Cambodia belonging to Asean and other international organizations, WTO membership is the final step to becoming a full partner in the global market, Suos Someth said.