US Trade Representative Susan Schwab is scheduled to arrive in Siem Reap province today ahead of bilateral trade talks with the Commerce Ministry on Wednesday, officials said.
During their meeting with the trade representative, Cambodian officials plan to discuss securing greater access for Cambodian garment exports to the US and technical assistance in drafting laws required as a result of World Trade Organization membership, Commerce Ministry Undersecretary of State Mao Thora said Monday.
Mandated by a trade agreement signed in June 2006, the periodic meetings between the US trade representative and the Commerce Ministry are an effort to reduce trade barriers as well as improve the protection of intellectual property and labor rights.
Of concern to Cambodia’s garment sector is the US’ lifting of import safeguards restricting some textile imports from China, which are due to expire at the end of next year. China is a major competitor for Cambodia’s garment industry.
Mao Thora said that at the talks, the Cambodian side, comprised of a dozen officials including Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh and members of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, plans to ask Schwab for assistance in securing US market access for Cambodian garments after the safeguards expire.
Cambodia is also seeking help in drafting laws required by the WTO, such as a law on import tariffs and the certification of phytosanitary conditions geared at preventing the spread of plant diseases and pests. Phytosanitary certification would allow Cambodia to export greater quantities of food to the US, Mao Thora said.
“It’s the Americans who are going to explain what kind of assistance they can send,” he added.
A bill introduced in the US Congress last month would give Cambodian garments extensive duty-free access to the US Proposed by Washington state Representative Jim McDermott, the bill currently has nine cosponsors.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said Schwab took a neutral stance toward the pending legislation.
“The Cambodians may raise the proposed McDermott bill but the USTR does not have a position on this proposed legislation,” Daigle wrote in an e-mail.
GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo said Monday that his organization had been asked to attend the meeting to explain difficulties in the industry arising from competition among the numerous trade unions present in garment factories.
“From our understanding from the US Embassy, they stand ready to look into the [unions] issue without compromising the freedom of association principle,” he said.