World Trade Organization (WTO)

In 1994, Cambodia applied for membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Following the Doha Declaration of November 2001 that eased membership conditions for least developed counties, Cambodia’s membership was finally approved in September 2003 at the Cancun Ministerial Conference. However, membership did not become effective until a year later because an internal political deadlock in Cambodia after the July 2003 elections delayed the ratification process.

Some Cambodian policy players were surprised by approval of Cambodia’s membership of the WTO, as negotiations had been conducted without the active participation of stakeholders. There was neither comprehensive research nor public debate on the costs and benefits of joining. According to a survey done by the Economic Institute of Cambodia just days after this approval, more than half of Cambodians living in Phnom Penh, the capital city, had never heard of the WTO. (1) None of the country’s parliamentarians knew about the substance of the negotiations. The government was expected to reveal detailed agreements with the WTO at the ratification debate in the National Assembly. Critics say that Cambodia has just thrown itself in at the deep end by becoming a member of the WTO.

With an estimated average per capita income of US$300 at the time of jointing the WTO, Cambodia is the poorest and least developed country in the East Asian region, and one of the poorest in the world. Since its emergence from war and upheaval, Cambodia has been very keen for economic recovery, to integrate itself into the world community by means of internal reforms. Though initial reforms have produced some positive results, the country is still plagued with major socio-economic problems. Its engine of growth for the past few years—the garment industry—is facing uncertainty and is looking towards the WTO for solutions.

World Customs Organization (WCO)

Cambodia is a member of the World Customs Organization (WCO). The Instrument of Accession was signed by Senior Minister, Minister of Economy and Finance, and forwarded to Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On April 3rd 2001, the letter informed the Council of the WCO about the deposit of Instrument of Accession of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the Convention Establishing the Customs Cooperation Council (CCC) making Cambodia 155th member of the Organization. Following Cambodia’s accession to the CCC, Cambodia became a member of the Asia Pacific Region, bringing the number of member administrations in this region to 24.

ASEAN

Cambodia became the member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on 30 April 1999. ASEAN Community consists of 3 Pillars namely: ASEAN Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

The AEC will establish ASEAN as a single market and production base making ASEAN more dynamic and competitive with new mechanisms and measures to strengthen the implementation of its existing economic initiatives; accelerating regional integration in the priority sectors; facilitating movement of business persons, skilled labour and talents; and strengthening the institutional mechanisms of ASEAN.

An ASEAN single market and production base shall comprise five core elements: (i) free flow of goods; (ii) free flow of services; (iii) free flow of investment; (iv) free flow of capital; and (v) free flow of skilled labour. In addition, the single market and production base also include two important components, namely, the priority integration sectors, and food, agriculture and forestry.

Great Mekong Sub-Region (GMS)

Cambodia has been an active participant in the GMS Program since the Program’s inception in 1992. The 11th Ministerial Conference was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in September 2002. The First GMS Summit of Leaders was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in November 2002. Given its central location in the Lower Mekong Basin, Cambodia is viewed as a key player in deepening economic cooperation among the participating countries in the GMS Program. The Mekong flows through the heart of Cambodia, which also hosts the Tonle Sap Great Lake, a unique ecological system that provides numerous sub-regional economic benefits, e.g., acting as buffer to annual floods and as spawning ground for various fish species. Cambodia is also at the center of the GMS Southern Economic Corridor, providing a strategic link between Thailand and Viet Nam through regional highways, and, in the future, railway links that form part of the Singapore–Kunming Rail Link Project.

Cambodia is also an active participant of the Development Triangle Initiative with Lao PDR and Viet Nam, and the Emerald Triangle Initiative with Lao PDR and Thailand. Cambodia is a major proponent of the early implementation of trade and transport facilitation measures in the GMS, in particular along the Southern Economic Corridor at the Aranyaprathet–Poipet and Bavet–Moc Bai border crossing points. Cambodia maintains a national secretariat to coordinate GMS program activities at the offices of the Council for the Development of Cambodia.