US Firms, Envoys Differ in Approach to Government

A U.S. business delegation arrived in Cambodia on Tuesday eager to deepen relationships between the two countries, a day after the U.S. Embassy issued a statement condemning recent developments in Cambodian politics.

Fourteen delegates from the US-ASEAN Business Council arrived on Tuesday “to engage with high-level Cambodian government officials and other stakeholders on expanding U.S.-Cambodia trade and investment ties,” according to a press statement issued by the group.

The group, which included representatives from General Electric, 3M and Coca-Cola, met with a wide roster of officials from the ministries of health, mines and energy, transport, and agriculture.

The delegation “expressed interest in the Royal Government’s initiatives to promote better governance and transparency, technological development, corporate governance,” the statement said.

“This year’s record-breaking number of 14 participating companies reinforces the Council’s and our members’ strong faith in Cambodia’s economic potential,” said Michael Michalak, the council’s regional managing director.

It was a strikingly different tone from a statement issued the day before by the U.S. Embassy, which expressed strong concerns about legislation passed on Monday empowering the government to dissolve political parties.

The legislation was passed with “little consultation or public debate” and will “restrict freedom of expression and the legitimate activities of political parties and, under vaguely defined circumstances, to dissolve them,” the statement said.

“Any government action to ban or restrict parties under the new amendments would constitute a significant setback for Cambodia’s political development and would seriously call into question the legitimacy of the upcoming elections.”

Deputy U.S. Embassy spokesman David Josar said diplomats in Phnom Penh and the visiting delegation were acting independently.

“The US-ASEAN Business Council is comprised of private U.S. companies with business interests and potential investment projects in Cambodia,” he wrote in an email on Tuesday. “This visit is part of their annual mission to meet with government stakeholders and commercial partners.”

U.S. investors have approved $1.31 billion worth of investments from 1994 to June 2015—the sixth highest amount of investment in Cambodia among individual countries during the period, according to figures from the Council for the Development of Cambodia

U.S. executives remain largely upbeat about investing in Cambodia, according to a survey of more than 500 regional leaders published in August by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with 88 percent of the executives expecting to make a profit here this year.

Cheap labor and high personal security were top draws for the group.

But the survey also spotlighted the executives’ diminished satisfaction with a number of factors in doing business in the country—satisfaction scores in the “stable government and political system” dipped to 19 percent last year, down 53 percent from 2011.

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