Written by Daniel Zarba, General Manager, CCFC
Cambodia’s economic relations with France have solid historic roots, which are deemed to intensify simultaneously with the country’s development. Indeed, Cambodia keeps appealing to entrepreneurs from the hexagon who seek new opportunities. An American Dream “made in Cambodia”? Maybe not, but for the French entrepreneurs, Cambodia, and more widely South-East Asia, has become “a place to be”. Those who decided to come and settle here long for career prospects in a country where growth reaches almost 7% while the rest of the world is undergoing a serious downturn. In this context, the CCFC represents a platform for companies to settle and develop in the country, through missions as varied as its Career Forum, its services, or its monthly events.
More particularly, the year 2012 has been prone to many changes, both for the CCFC and Cambodia, making the relationship between our 2 countries even stronger and more deeply rooted: On the one hand, Cambodia’s presidency of the ASEAN is an opportunity to strengthen its international presence and meet challenges in terms of development. For the CCFC, it is the occasion to develop the ties between France and Cambodia by enhancing the latter’s potential. On the other hand, 2012 has marked the dawn of a new era for our Chamber as well: major changes have been implemented, such as a new website in line with UCCIFE (Union of the French Chambers of Commerce and Industries Overseas) standards, a developing panel of services both to foreign and local companies, the creation of a business centre, and so on. These two elements – Cambodia’s surging economy and the CCFC’s development – are intertwined, as the country’s growth calls for investments and large-scale projects, and it is the Chamber’s mission to keep up with the country’s evolution. One example is the would-be Agro-industry Salon the CCFC will certainly create and develop in the next few months, reflecting Cambodia’s potential in the agri-business and its will to catch up in this sector.
Thus, it seems that investment opportunities are mushrooming in the country. As a Chamber of Commerce, we are the first witness of the rising interest of investors, for the number of our members has kept surging since our inception. We can see first-hand the sectors that are the most appealing to foreigners. Unsurprisingly, tourism comes first: a rising number of French entrepreneurs, attracted by the growth in the tourism sector, are now interested in opening a guest house, a hotel or a restaurant in the country. Of course, the potential is huge. From 2.9 million in 2011, the country is meant to reach 5 million visitors in 2015. Two sectors come next: the garment industry, and services. Others have potential: the environment and energy sectors are becoming a priority, as fuel prices are much higher than average and annul the competitive advantage earned by cheap labor.
Then why isn’t Cambodia considered as an emerging country? With a growth rate unseen elsewhere except for China, mutations happening everywhere, and eyes turning to the business opportunities to find here, the country could deserve the word. Yet, in 2011 and 2012, Doing Business ranks Cambodia 138th country in the list of “Ease of Doing Business” ranking. More than the figure itself, which is understandable given the country’s past and late development, it is the lack of evolution that is surprising, for the country has undergone many changes. Investing here remains, as in many Asian countries, difficult, especially without a local contact. Procedures, ways and language can be a brake for foreigners to open a business, all the more so as owing a land is impossible on the Cambodian soil unless you have the Khmer nationality. The CCFC’s reason to be is driven by this need of assistance of would-be entrepreneurs who want to create a business. Each week, we receive several information enquiries on this subject. If not all of them pave the way for something concrete, they confirm the country’s perception of a land of opportunities. The challenge is now for the Khmers to implement the necessary conditions to foster investments, and more importantly, to bring development from “the inside”. With 80% of the population believing in their country’s future economic situation, locals and foreigners expect a lot from Cambodia, large-scale projects and sustainable growth, and we, as CCFC, will be proud to be a part of it.