Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday told representatives from 47 least developed countries that they must remain united in global trade talks in order to compete with the world’s developed nations.
Speaking in Siem Reap town at the opening of the two-day Ministerial Conference of Least Developed Countries, Hun Sen also warned that LDCs, including Cambodia, must prepare for the possibility that foreign aid would decrease in the face of the global financial crisis. The prime minister went on to blast developed countries for maintaining trade barriers and agricultural subsidies that are retarding the development of LDCs.
Hun Sen noted that the World Trade Organization’s Doha round of global trade talks has stalled, but urged the LDCs present at the conference to unite behind a common goal to push for the negotiations to resume “as soon as possible.”
“I strongly believe that the LDCs must send another clear message to the international community, especially to key players in the negotiation process of the WTO in order to ensure that the negotiation process must be in conformity with the principle of free and fair trade of the WTO, which is the heart of development,” Hun Sen said.
The WTO and UN Industrial Development Organization organized the Siem Reap conference.
The prime minister attacked the developed world for holding on to restrictions that he said go against this spirit of free and fair trade.
“There are also obstacles in commerce for least developed countries,” he said. “We are opening doors to absorb products from the developed countries, [but] we can’t export products to the developed countries. We meet firm obstacles.”
Among those obstacles, he said, are unnecessarily high food safety standards and subsidies propping up farmers in developed nations.
“We can’t export to the developed countries because they also want to support their agricultural products. It is important for least developed countries to have unity and one voice to negotiate” to change this, Hun Sen said.
Despite his grievances with the developed world, the prime minister also recognized the reliance that many LDCs have on development aid and foreign direct investment from these same nations. He warned, however, that both aid and investment might be in shorter supply in the year to come.
“The least developed countries are also severely suffering from the [global financial] crisis due to the fact that our FDI is from the crisis-stricken countries,” Hun Sen told the conference. “We know that the rich countries have used their capital to bail out their own countries. When they are using their capital to save themselves, we know that non-returnable aid or loans…will be reduced.”
Hun Sen said that these hard times should serve as a reminder that everything must be done to boost the local economy through expanding trade, both by reducing internal barriers to trade and likewise to construct a negotiating framework that would ultimately break down barriers to markets in developed countries.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the government will be seeking about $600 million in donor assistance for next year. He added that the state sought a similar amount for 2008 and received about $690 million.
SRP lawmaker Cheam Channy said by telephone Wednesday that faced with the possibility of a reduction in foreign aid, the government must take more strident measures to strengthen tax collection in order to make up for any aid shortfalls.
“The government has failed to collect tax revenue effectively due to corruption,” he said.
He added that, rather than complaining about high quality standards set by developed countries, the government should be working to actually make Cambodian products better.