Officials Wrangle Over Lower Trade Barriers

Lawmakers and government officials differed Wednesday on the prospects of Cambodia competing with its neighbors as debate continued on a draft law ratifying 27 Asean agreements.

Cambodia, which was admitted into Asean last year, is slated to join the Asean Free Trade Area in 2015, moved up from 2018 to match the entry dates of Laos and Burma.

Son Chhay, a member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, urged fellow lawmakers to allow Cambodia’s production capabilities to develop before exposing the country to international competition. “Why are you in such a hurry?” he asked.

Cambodia’s agricultural production lags behind Vietnam and Thailand, Son Chhay said.

But Sok Siphana, secretary of state for the Ministry of Com­merce, countered that high-quality rice production is one area where Cambodia can compete. “We have a comparative advantage in rice production for ex­port,” he said. “If we enter the free trade area, it will help in­crease the market for our farmers.”

Sok Siphana appealed to foreign investors to build up Cam­bodia’s rice milling technology to compete with Thailand. He also recommended that rice farmers set up associations to share costs, making their products more accessible to outside markets.

The National Assembly will continue debating on Friday a draft law ratifying 27 Asean agreements covering issues from economics and politics to culture and trade. All 27 agreements must be approved for Cambodia to remain in Asean.



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