Despite the pandemic, the Malaysian business community remains upbeat on the growth of the Kingdom’s local economy and the country’s potential as a trading partner.
While Malaysian Business Council of Cambodia (MBCC) President Teh Sing admits that Malaysian companies were also affected by the pandemic, just like other companies worldwide, such impact was only a “temporary setback”.
Once the health crisis is over, Teh says he expects more Malaysian companies to invest in Cambodia.
“Everyone is affected and the majority are those in the travel and tourism sector. Malaysian Airlines, Air Asia and Malindo have all been badly affected. NagaWorld was shut down until last month and thank God they are allowed to open again,” he noted.
Teh said the prospects for Malaysian business investments remain promising, with the Cambodian economy growing at an unprecedented rate.
In the last decade, Cambodia’s economy has grown by an average of seven percent, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. While the pandemic and its after-effects have slowed it down, the general consensus among experts is that Cambodia will easily rebound and might even surpass previous growth rates.
“Prospect is still very good. There are lots of potential here. More [investments] will be coming without a doubt,” he stressed.
According to Teh, Cambodia’s main point of attraction for Malaysian companies are its young population and pro-business policies.
He expressed confidence that such strengths will continue on, noting the adept governance of Prime Minister Hun Sen who, he says, has done a great job of managing the economy and attracting foreign investors.
The long-time head of the MBCC is particularly knowledgeable about Cambodia and its potential, having lived in the Kingdom since the early 1990s.
“I have travelled the whole country. I have seen it by myself,” he stresses.
He has one important advice for Malaysian businesses that are planning to invest in Cambodia in the future. “Come in with deep pockets and plan for the long-term,” he says.
Last year, according to the Macroeconomic and Banking Progress 2019 Report and 2020 Outlook, the Kingdom attracted more than $3.5 billion in foreign direct investment, with Malaysia being one of its biggest investor and trading partner.
In fact, in the first seven months of 2019, trade between Cambodia and Malaysia reached close to $500 million, according to Malaysia’s national trade promotion agency, Matrade.
Currently, there are more than 300-strong Malaysian companies in Cambodia – a significant increase from the 150 companies five years ago. These companies cover various fields, including banking, telecommu-nications, energy, manufa-cturing, tax consulting, media, food and beverage, and hospitality.
Among these are NagaWorld, Muhibbah Engineering, Smart Axiata, Cambodia Utilities, MPA Securities, Cambodian Public Bank (Campubank), Maybank, Hong Leong Bank, RHB Bank and CIMB Bank. Initially Malaysian-owned Cambrew, meanwhile, was sold to Danish multi-national company Carlsberg Group last year.
“We were one of the earliest investors here and we have been holding the top investor position in Cambodia for many years until the Chinese started to come in,” Teh notes.
Malaysia was the top investor in Cambodia from 1994 to 2006.
Teh said they are aiming to take back the top spot – a priority stressed by Malaysian Ambassador to Cambodia Eldeen Husaini Mohd Hashim in a prior interview with the local media
Upon assuming his post, Ambassador Eldeen Husaini said that his priority lies in bringing back Malaysia to the number one spot, which it last held fourteen years ago.
Teh also notes other instances which reflect Malaysia’s early and deep involvement in Cambodia’s development.
“We helped improve the infrastructure of the country. Muhibbah Engineering helped build airports in Cambodia. Cambodia Utilities was the first independent power producer in Phnom Penh. We also helped improve the skill level of the locals,” he points out.
“Campubank and Maybank were the first of the few banks in Cambodia in the early 90s. Gandna Advertising was the first to build Uni-poles and billboards in Cambodia. Cambodia Daily, an English newspaper, was also started by Malaysians. Another good example is Cambrew Limited. We rebuilt the brewery after it was left dormant during the Khmer Rouge regime,” he adds.
According to Teh, Malaysian companies started to invest more in Cambodia during the time of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, who rolled out Prosper-Thy-Neighbour, a policy intended to share Malaysia’s wealth among its neighbours. This led to more Malaysian companies investing in other Asean countries, including Cambodia.
To underscore his point, Prime Minister Mahathir paid a state visit to Cambodia last year. His trip led to increased interest in Cambodia and the signing of significant business agreements, including one on tourism cooperation and another on the avoidance of double taxation.
With all such contributions, the MBCC, in collaboration with the Malaysian Embassy in Cambodia, has been undoubtedly instrumental in cementing and enhancing economic ties between Cambodia and Malaysia.
Established in 1993, the MBCC’s mission is to “connect all fellow Malaysians and Malaysian companies operating here in Cambodia, to foster and enhance the relationship between these two great nations…providing a forum for better networking, and sharing information”.
In addition to their business activities, Malaysian businesses here are also active in charity work and community service.
Despite suffering some losses, Malaysian businesses have come together to help Cambodia cope with the health crisis.
“NagaWorld, Smart Axiata and most of the banks have been donating COVID-19 related products like protective masks and hand sanitizers, among others, to the government,” Teh concludes.