US Trade Official Calls For Probe of Riots

Deputy US Trade Representa­tive Jon Huntsman on Wednes­day called for a full governmental investigation into the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots, but said that the rampage compromised investor confidence more than it did Cam­bo­dia’s chances of joining the World Trade Organiz­a­tion.

The riots “left people confused. That’s why a proper and com­­prehensive accounting of these events will be important,” Hunts­­man said at a news conference.

US Ambassador Charles Ray added that the US is not fully satisfied with the explanation the government has offered in response to the outburst of violence that destroyed several Thai businesses and left the Thai Embassy looted and burned.

“We’re still waiting for a complete answer,” Ray said.

Huntsman said Cambodia’s successful WTO accession, to be discussed and possibly determined at the Fifth WTO Minis­terial Con­fer­ence scheduled for September in  Mexico, instead would be contingent on the wrap-up of bilateral talks with the US, an open market and a stable political and economic environment.

“Success is tied to the strengths of political institutions, including issues of good governance,” Hunts­man said.

In meetings with Prime Min­ister Hun Sen, Commerce Min­ister Cham Prasidh and Finance Minister Keat Chhon on Tuesday and Wednesday, Huntsman said he discussed judicial reform as it relates to commercial courts and the cost of doing business as two areas Cambodia must im­prove.

He did not specify what needed improvement, only mentioning the agricultural and industrial sectors and saying that the US would not “get into them” but might “in the days and weeks to come.”

Although accession to the WTO would be a “seal of approv­al as seen by investors,” it would not en­sure enforcement of laws passed to join the body, a factor pivotal in attracting and keeping investors, Hunts­man said. He said that up­holding measures like the intellectual property laws would be especially important as the country moves to produce more sophisticated technological property.

If Cambodia’s bid for WTO membership is successful, it will be the first less-developed country to join the body since 1995, Huntsman said.

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