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Investor Visit May Mark Return of Malaysia

Cambodia and Malaysia’s recent multimillion dollar agreement on a range of ventures has likely opened the door for even more interest from a country that used to be the top investor here, officials and analysts say.

Earlier this month, the two countries agreed to half a dozen deals, including a $700 million agreement on security technology with Malaysia’s Nexbis. In addition, both sides agreed on the opening of about 20 bistros, halal food production, two universities, and a chicken farm.

Government officials say they expect to see signs of at least some of the investment by the end of 2010, and they hope this is just the beginning.

Malaysia is a large investor in Vietnam and Indonesia, said Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association. And now Cambodia wants to tempt some of those businesses.

This month’s delegation was led by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who brought 100 investors from 66 companies with him. Of those, 60 are still looking for investment partnerships in agro-industry, oil, gas, clean energy, real estate, tourism and telecommunication.

Felcra-Berhad, for example, came looking for investment in a rubber plantation in Mondolkiri province, worth $2 million.

“In the beginning, we may start with 5,000 hectares first, and we will expand to 10,000 or 30,000 hectares,” Haji Juzilman Basir, acting vice president of the Malaysian state-owned company, told VOA Khmer. “We are now still waiting for the proposal from the authorities here, and then we’ll go back to our country to discuss investment, which could start at the end of the year or next year.”

Cambodia remains less developed than its neighbors, but it has a lot of investment opportunities, said Mi Ki Choong, a strategist for the Centurise investment group. Real estate, media, entertainment and technology are all attractive, she said.

Some in the Malaysian delegation did not find investment partners.

“We are looking for Cambodians who are planting jatropha, and then we can make the oil, because there is a potential market to grow, to produce and to use it, but we haven’t found them yet,” said Abdul Manaf Radzi, senior vice president of Malaysia Biotech Corp. “So as long as we can find those people, we can work together.”

The investment delegation marked a renewed interest in Cambodia by Malaysians, who, prior to 2007, made up the largest group of investors here, especially in garments and telecommunications.

Razak said during his visit Malaysian investment in Cambodia over the last 14 years had come to $2.19 billion.

However, in 2009, Malaysian fixed investment in Cambodia was little more than $7 million—fourth of all Asean countries and 11th of 21 overall. China, South Korea and Vietnam have all surpassed Malaysia in investment here.

“Now they are coming back to us, and we will see their potential at the end of the year,” said Ngoun Meng Tech, secretary-general for the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce.

Duy Thoy, deputy secretary-general at the Council for the Development of Cambodia, said Malaysia’s fast-growing economy will lead investors to Cambodia in the future.