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ASEAN ANALYSIS  7 September 2010

Cambodian grows and develops

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   7 September 2010

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One of the 10 member countries of Asean, Cambodia doesn’t receive much international press.

The most recent story that gained attention was the trial of Khmer Rouge leaders before a UN-Cambodian trial. However, that was a singular event that won’t be repeated in Cambodia and the stories failed to tell readers much about Cambodia.

The other coverage in the west has been mainly stories of human trafficking, largely reported by Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times.

Today, let’s take a broader view of Cambodia. The country has a population of 15 million with half of the population below the age of 21 in a country that is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Oklahoma.

The challenge for Cambodia is to find a niche in the world’s economic structure that can support its population, that is for the most part not well educated and lacks skills.

The economy showed growth of 10 percent during the first decade but tailed off after 2007 due to the worldwide recession. The garment industry is the largest employer in the country and with wage increases in China and Thailand, may attract more garment companies that seek ever-lower labor costs.

In the agriculture sector there is widespread opportunity and one of the investors and developers is a Singapore firm, HLH Agriculture (Cambodia).

HLH came to Cambodia because it has a lot of land that can grow about any kind of crop The firm has invested US$40 million in a project that covers 10,000 hectares in Kampomg Seu province to produce red corn.

The firm chose this crop because of the world’s continuing need for food and Asia’s need for 50 million tons of corn a year. In 2009, HLH received US$100 per ton, but in 2010 the price has more than doubled to more than US$200 a ton.

Company leaders acknowledge that Cambodia needs a laboratory to check on food quality and more food processing companies are needed but are encouraged by government policy that doesn’t tax equipment imports, facilitates exports and the improving customs and port facilities.

Cambodia is a long way from the economic status of many of its fellow Asean countries but in its own way is becoming a success story.

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