Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday took the stage at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, to urge member states and development partners to continue supporting least developed economies as they vie to achieve greater national wealth.
The Cambodian premier was speaking at the opening plenary of the Aid for Trade Global Review 2019.
Mr Hun Sen began his speech noting that Cambodia became a WTO member in 2004, when only two least developed countries (LDCs) were part of the organisation.
Since then, he said, Cambodia has achieved an average annual economic growth of about 7.7 percent and graduated from a low-income country to a lower-middle income country in 2015.
He also highlighted a drop in the national poverty rate, which went from 53.2 percent in 2004 to below 10 percent last year.
Part of this success can be attributed to Cambodia’s diversification of production and export markets, Mr Hun Sen said. The value of exports has expanded from $5.7 billion (representing 40.5 percent of GDP) in 2012 to $13 billion (53.2 percent) in 2018.
From a narrow production base composed mostly of garments, the Kingdom has gradually diversified its industrial production, he noted, also pointing out that the country no longer relies on just a few markets (the European Union and the United States) but also sends its products to Japan and all Asean member states, among others.
“Our vision is to transform ourselves into a higher-middle income country by 2030 and higher income county by 2050,” Mr Hun Sen said. “To achieve this, I call on all members of the World Trade Organization and development partners to continue supporting us and other LDCs to help us enhance our competitiveness and back our graduation from LDC status,” he said.
“[I ask that development partners] continue providing trade preferences through bilateral and multilateral systems and think carefully before suspending or withdrawing these because such actions can impact the beneficiaries and run counter to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
“[Withdrawing trade preferences] doesn’t help LDCs graduate from LDC status and this contradicts the principles of the World Trade Organization,” he said.
WTO’s director-general Roberto Azevedo congratulated Cambodia for its economic achievements since it became a member of the organisation.
“I am delighted with the achievements of Cambodia and how it has developed its trade policy in line with the World Trade Organization. The country’s development contributes to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.
Mr Hun Sen’s delegation in Geneva included Song Saran, president and CEO of Amru Rice, a leading milled rice exporter, who echoed many of the Cambodian prime minister’s remarks in his speech.
“I think other WTO members should open more their markets and allow us and others LDCs to export and compete in a level playing field,” he said.
“Financing is also very helpful for the private sector as it helps companies build their capacity, expand, and climb up the value chain.
“The WTO can also help LDCs when it comes to the digital economy and to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, helping vulnerable farmers and women join domestic, regional and global supply chains,” he added.
During his speech, Prime Minister Hun Sen also announced the launch of Cambodia’s Trade Integration Strategy covering the years 2019-2023.