Cambodian finance officials say they are now more closely studying membership into the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade pact that seeks to boost economic ties across the region.
Vongsey Visoth, secretary of state of the Ministry of Finance and Economy, told investors and others at a local forum last week that Cambodia could not afford to ignore the possibility, due to its benefits to the economy, even though Cambodia is already negotiating with China to enter the Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership.
The study of the TPP comes following talks between ASEAN leaders, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, and US President Barack Obama, in California last week.
Vongsey Visoth said countries who have signed onto the deal have not been ratified through US Congress. Nevertheless, those countries should start working together to build compatible regulations with other TPP members, including on intellectual property and other regulations, he said. ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have signed onto the TPP.
Chap Sothavrith, senior researcher at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said Cambodia cold benefit greatly from the TPP, whose potential members would cover 40 percent of the world’s GDP. Cambodia need not worry about debt obligations to China as an impediment to joining the TPP, he said. The debt is manageable and “the deal has its own criteria,” he said.
Cambodia has a foreign debt load of $5.9 billion, according to government figures, about 45 percent of which are owed to China.
Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum, said Cambodia should not worry about Chinese aid in considering joining the TPP. In fact, the US-led pact would help Cambodia cut its reliance on China, he said. “If it’s affected, it’s affected,” he said. “But if we are just afraid of being affected and don’t dare move… we’ll still be begging for money from China.”
The TPP could force some conditions on Cambodia, however, he said, such as improving workers’ rights and adjusting protections for businesses and the environment. “Being a part of the deal could force the government to make necessary reforms which can be beneficial to us,” he added.