PHNOM PENH — With no end in sight to the so-called trade war between the US and China, the European Union (EU) sees a chance to act as the guardian of free trade and hold its own against the two giants. But as the bloc gets increasingly bogged down in spats with individual Southeast Asian countries, prospects for a wider regional trade relationship look increasingly precarious. With Cambodia’s eligibility for preferential market access to the EU coming under question and with the likelihood growing that Myanmar could be put under similar scrutiny, the EU appears to be hedging against any consequent damage to its relations with Southeast Asia by seeking free trade agreements and closer defence ties with some of the region’s countries. While for now Cambodia can export duty-free to the 28-country, 513 million-population European Union market, this week saw the end of the “monitoring and engagement” phase of a review of that access, potentially putting $5 billion worth of Cambodian garment exports at risk. A European Commission spokesperson said in an August 12 email that “over the next six months, the Commission and the European External Action Service will analyse all the evidence collected”.
PHNOM PENH – Cambodia appears to be the latest beneficiary of the US-China trade war, joining the already exhaustively profiled Vietnam among the countries enjoying increased exports to the US as tariffed Chinese goods open the door for other cheap suppliers. Latest US government data show annual imports from Cambodia rising significantly since the start of the year, with the US$1.8 billion registered from January-May a roughly 20% increase on the same period last year. Like Vietnam, Cambodia has duty-free access to American markets under the Generalized System of Preferences, a trade program designed to promote economic growth in the developing world. Trade represented 125% of Cambodia’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017, according to the World Bank. In 2018, the bulk of Cambodia’s goods exports to the US were clothing and footwear, with the Office of the US Trade Representative listing the top four sectors as knit apparel ($1.8 billion), woven apparel ($628 million), leather products ($390 million), and footwear ($329 million). Cambodia’s 2018 trade surplus with the US was $3.4 billion — which, though relatively-small compared with Vietnam’s near-$40 billion for the same year — will continue to rise this year as Cambodia’s exports to the US surge. Parsing the numbers for a direct trade war link is not as clear-cut as it may seem, however, with both Vietnam – where trade represented 188% of GDP in 2018 – and Cambodia expanding their commerce with the US since before the start of the tariff war.
SIEM REAP — For an art production house based in North Korea, whose usual stock-in-trade is nationalist-communist propaganda, constructing a museum in Cambodia to celebrate the grandeur of the Khmer Empire might seem a surprising project. While North Korea may be on the verge of a rapprochement with the U.S. ahead of the proposed meeting between its dictator Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, recent sanctions imposed on the country in response to its missile tests could raise questions about the status of the Angkor Panorama Museum, which opened in late 2015 at a cost of $24 million and sits on the doorstep of the vast Angkor temple complex. When the United Nations Security Council enacted sanctions against North Korea in 2017 in response to its missile tests, it said that states “shall prohibit, by their nationals or in their territories, the opening, maintenance, and operation of all joint ventures or cooperative entities, new and existing, with DPRK entities or individuals.” That suggests Cambodia, other than requesting an opt-out from the council, would be required to close the North Korean-built museum or ensure that it is now fully locally owned. “Cambodia is required by UNSC sanctions measures to close the joint venture or request an exemption,” said William Newcomb of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
PHNOM PENH — As he described his search for funding for Khmerload, a digital media company touted as Cambodia’s version of BuzzFeed, chief executive Vichet In recounted an arduous struggle. “We sent an email to 10 [venture capitalists] — no reply. We talked to a few investors — there was no interest. They couldn’t believe we could do an expansion to another country.” Finally, U.S.-based investor 500 Startups, which describes itself as “a global venture capital seed fund,” came up with $200,000, cash that could help the company expand beyond Cambodia and Myanmar, where Myanmarload was launched in 2016. The websites churn out the kind of entertainment and celebrity gossip that was the foundation for the global success of U.S.-based BuzzFeed, a website that mixes entertainment, news and so-called viral content The 500 Startups deal, announced in March, was the first time a Silicon Valley venture capital fund had put its money into a Cambodian “startup,” a term for a newly-established business that nowadays usually refers to a tech, online or smartphone-related enterprise.
PHNOM PENH — Not so long ago, the backdrop in any photo of Phnom Penh landmarks such as the Royal Palace or Independence Monument would have been a low-rise panoply of four- and five-story townhouses. But in one of Southeast Asia’s more visually transformative building booms, dozens of apartment and office blocks have gone up around the Cambodian capital, sending land prices skyward. If not quite the cornerstone of the country’s economic growth, Phnom Penh’s construction boom has at least cemented Cambodia’s already rapid expansion, which has topped 7% most years for the past two decades.
PHNOM PENH — Preliminary results in Cambodia’s June 4 local, or commune, elections indicate a narrow win for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party. The CPP took 51% of the popular vote, giving it control of around 1,100 of the country’s 1,646 communes. But nearly half of all voters opted for the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party, suggesting a close fight in next year’s parliamentary elections. The local elections were a dry run for the 2018 poll. Two days before the vote, Hun Sen led a huge CPP rally in Phnom Penh — a rare appearance from a leader previously so confident that he rarely campaigned. The CNRP emulated the CPP later the same day. Tens of thousands of both parties’ supporters rode around the capital in festive convoys of trucks and motorbikes around 5km long.
Last Sunday Cambodia’s held local elections saw a narrow win for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party led by Prime Minister Hun Sen. But while the CPP won the popular vote, the opposition saw its share of council seats increase ten-fold from the last local elections held in 2012. The campaign had all the colour and tension of a national election, which Cambodia will stage in a year’s time, with huge final rallies by the CPP and the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party on the Friday before the vote.
PHNOM PENH — As Cambodia’s 16 million people awaited official results from Sunday’s local elections, early indications suggested that Cambodian National Rescue Party, the main opposition group, had made significant gains at the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s expense. As the National Election Committee read out results on local TV, the CNRP estimated that it had won 46% of the popular vote to the CPP’s 51%. Fresh News, a local outlet sympathetic toward the CPP, said that preliminary results showed the CPP winning in 1,163 communes across the country, down from 1,592 five years earlier, with the CNRP winning 482. The elections are widely seen as a test run ahead of next year’s national parliamentary polls, which will decide who forms the next government. At stake are 11,572 local council seats in Cambodia’s 1,646 communes or municipalities. The National Election Committee, an official body, was scheduled to being announcing preliminary results first at 5pm local time, then 7pm, before finally commencing the results announcement at 8:30pm. The delay was blamed on an internet outage.
PHNOM PENH — Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians braved scorching sun in the capital on Friday to cheer Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Kem Sokha on the final day of campaigning ahead of Sunday (June 4) when strongly contested commune, or sangkat elections, are being held.
PHNOM KROM, Cambodia — Cambodians will vote on June 4 in municipal, or commune, elections widely seen as a gauge for how the both the ruling and opposition parties will fare in national elections scheduled for next year. Twelve parties are vying for the support of nearly 8 million voters in 1,646 communes across the country. The main contest will be between Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party and the biggest opposition group, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, which ultimately hopes to end the CPP’s long run at the helm of government. Only those two main parties are contesting every seat, but smaller groups such as the royalist Funcinpec — as well as the League for Democracy, led by the outspoken Khem Veasna — have realistic hopes of winning seats. Cheang Vannak, a motorcycle mechanic, voted for the CPP in the last national elections in 2013, helping the governing party to a narrow win over the CNRP in a disputed contest. But nodding toward a CNRP party logo on a motorbike parked at the entrance to his roadside garage near Phnom Krom in western Cambodia, he indicated that this time his vote would go to the opposition.