The head of the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Cambodia (CCIFC) is optimistic that the French business community in Cambodia will become stronger after the end of the Coronavirus pandemic.
In an exclusive interview, CCFIC President Soreasmey Ke Bin shared that like the rest of the foreign business community in the Kingdom, the French were also heavily affected by the pandemic.
“Our business community has obviously been affected, mostly in the tourism sector, but [the impact] has not been limited to that industry alone. Some businesses have shut down operations, some have been forced to scale things down while others are in a ‘pending’ mode. This is particularly the case for our business community in Siem Reap,” he noted.
Despite that, Ke Bin is confident that French businesses in Cambodia have the fortitude to weather the storm until normalcy returns after the crisis.
“I’m convinced our business community will stand even stronger than before,” he declared.
“Our French and French-Cambodian entrepreneurs didn’t leave the Kingdom. They did their best to save their businesses and their employees’ jobs, often at their own expense. In the long term, they will be rewarded for their resillience,” he added.
Ke Bin added that the pandemic has discouraged French companies from expanding and investing abroad.
“Nevertheless, interest [remains] and some projects are moving forward in Cambodia,” he stressed.
For instance, Ke Bin noted, Peugeot opened a car dealership this year and the French bakery chain,”Paul” is entering the market.
“Menard, a company specialising in ground improvement, is currently establishing a subsidiary in Cambodia, as is EGPI, an engineering consultancy firm [focused] on energy and sustainability solutions,” he disclosed.
He added that in the tourism sector there are some very new concepts that could contribute to fostering tourism in the Kingdom and cited the Angkor immersive project, led by the French startup ICONEM, as one in [development].
“Some French companies in the energy sector are also keen to offer solutions in renewable energy and energy efficiency, while specialists in the water sector are looking at irrigation and waste management solutions,” he said.
France is the biggest European investor in Cambodia and one of the Kingdom’s major trading partners.
Trade between France and Cambodia, according to the CCFIC, increased by 20 percent in 2019, reaching $1.5 billion per annum, with French exports to Cambodia increasing by 117 percent, and Cambodian exports to France increasing by 10 percent.
France imports many more goods from Cambodia (textiles, shoes, rice, bicycles, travel goods) than it exports to the Southeast Asian nation (transport equipment, mechanical and electronic products, agri-food products, pharmaceuticals products, perfumes).
There are more than 400 French enterprises in Cambodia, according to the CCFIC. They include iconic French companies Vinci, Total, Accor, Decathlon, Bollore, Pernod-Ricard, Sanofi, BRED bank also LVMH, Havas, Zanier, Schneider, Legrand, Peugeot and Michelin.
Many French brands also sell their products through Cambodian retailers. In the food and beverage (F&B) sector, for example, Evian, Perrier, Elle & Vire and Lactalis are well-established here. French wines are also widely available in the Kingdom.
Ke Bin assumed the CCFIC presidency, along with a new board, in February 2020.
After assuming their posts, they endeavoured on the development of a new format of events designed to engage their very diverse community.
“It was not easy because we started our mandate just at the start of the pandemic crisis, but we [have kept] our team and business community mobilised by organising several webinars. We were also able to restart our events as soon as the authorities gave the green light to do so,” he revealed.
One of their first decisions was to revamp their monthly gathering format. They decided on tackling different sectors at each event in order to attract [broader] audiences. Now labelled the “Pop-up de la CCIFC”, this monthly keynote and networking event showcases a range of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), seasoned entrepreneurs and startups projects.
“We also launched the CEO Dinner, which gathers a limited number of top CEOs from CCIFC, as well as a fellow foreign business association,” he mentioned.
The first dinner was held in partnership with the Thai Business Council in Cambodia in August 2020. Another with the American Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia is coming up.
“In the interim, we are focusing on our gala dinner which, for the first time, will see us award companies and entrepreneurs based on a public vote,” he disclosed. .
Ke Bin said they are happy to have the strong backing and support of the French embassy in Cambodia.
“It has to be emphasised that we are totally independent from the embassy and the French government but, of course, we are committed to the same interests and we
are operating as a team – “TeamFrance” as our government has labelled it,” he said.
“We are glad that current Ambassador Eva Nguyen-Binh, supports our community by hosting joint events.” The French market gathered 8,000 visitors at the French embassy in March 2019, and we hope to organise another in 2021,” he added.