Government, NGO and private sector officials on Tuesday completed two days of meetings on the first draft of Cambodia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, a protocol required by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank under their loan conditions.
The government is finishing its first draft of the paper, which is scheduled for completion in October. This week’s meeting is seeking participation from other interested parties.
“What is the benefit of [World Trade Organization]?” asked one participant, a labor union representative. “Is there a negative impact to Cambodian laborers or not?”
She was concerned, she said, that Cambodians lack the labor skills to compete with other countries whose imports will eventually compete with Cambodian-made products under reduced tariffs.
Pich Rithy, deputy director-general for the Ministry of Commerce, assured her that the WTO looks out for developing countries by allowing exceptions to tariff structures.
“The WTO always helps the small country,” he said.
This year’s rice shortage, due mainly to the over-exporting of Cambodia’s rice, is an example of the government’s regulatory role, said Mike Bird, program coordinator for Oxfam Great Britain and another panelist. In this case, he said, food security was sacrificed for high profits.
Bird said in an interview that Oxfam does not oppose world trade as one instrument of poverty reduction, but believes the rules of international trade favor richer nations at the expense of poorer ones.
Without the WTO, the government can still implement reforms for long-term development, Bird said.
But to many in the private sector, Cambodia needs to embrace liberalization to draw foreign investment, said Preben Andersen of MCC Transport.
“Things are moving so fast that if Cambodia does not get on track, and very quickly…it could fall farther behind,” he said.