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Friday, February 06, 2009

Cambodia – potential market for Vietnamese products

VietNamNet Bridge – Neighbouring Cambodia has emerged as a potential market for Vietnamese products, according to the Industry and Trade Ministry.

The ministry said that there is a growing demand for Vietnamese products, mainly in steel, fertilizer, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, plastics, garment and textiles.

Biti’s footwear, Vinamilk dairy products and Vissan processed food have become the choice of Cambodian consumers instead of Chinese and Thai goods.

Moreover, Cambodian visitors to Ho Chi Minh City like to go shopping at supermarkets and have health checks-up at Cho Ray, Binh Dan and Gia Dinh hospitals. According to local tourism firms, each Cambodian visitor spends an estimated 850-2,000 USD during their visits.

Jumping at the chance, many Vietnamese enterprises have opened their shops in Cambodia. In 2008, over 150 Vietnamese businesses set up companies, representative offices and shops in the country.

However, the Vietnamese Trade Mission to Cambodia said that few Vietnamese businesses build long-term plans to develop this market.

Vietnam is currently the third largest exporter to Cambodia after Thailand and China while Cambodia is the 16th biggest market of Vietnam.

The country plans to raise the trade turnover with Cambodia to 2.45 billion USD by 2010.

In 2008, Vietnam earned 1.43 billion USD from exports to Cambodia, a year-on-year increase of 50 percent.
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CAMBODIA: Chevron Silent on Bribery Allegations

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Feb 6 (IPS) - U.S. energy giant Chevron is under fire for failing to disclose the amount of money it allegedly paid to secure rights to drill for offshore oil in corruption-ridden Cambodia.

‘’It is yet to respond to our detailed questions in a letter written to the company in October 2008,’’ says Gavin Hayman, campaigns director for Global Witness (GW), a London-based anti-corruption watchdog. ‘’It is not in favour of supplying information about what it pays foreign governments to secure rights for oil exploration.’’

Chevron’s attitude towards disclosure ‘’will be telling,’’ he explained in an interview, since such revelations will help measure the scale of ‘’under the table payments’’ involved in a country where a small and powerful elite has ‘’captured the country’s emerging oil and mineral sectors’’ for personal gain.

But disclosure about money paid to access the resource is only one part of the transparency and accountability equation. GW activist insists that the oil companies should also disclose what they would pay Cambodia once the revenue starts flowing.

Hayman made the comments following a launch here this week of a report by GW which warns of a corruption disaster as the South-east Asian country ‘’appears to be on the verge of an oil, gas and minerals windfall.’’

‘’Cambodia today is a country for sale,’’ reveals the 68-page report. ‘’Having made their fortune from logging much of the country’s forests resources, Cambodia’s elite have diversified their commercial interests to encompass other forms of state assets.’’

‘’Financial bonuses paid to secure concessions [for oil and mining] - totalling millions of dollars - do not show up, as far as GW can see, in the 2006 and 2007 revenue reports from the ministry of economy and finance,’’ notes the report, ‘Country for Sale’. ‘’Oil company contracts and information on concession allocations are a closely guarded secret within the CNPA [Cambodian National Petroleum Authority].’’

Yet what is better known is the presence of Chevron among the companies from Australia, China, Indonesia, South Korea and the United States that have been competing to secure rights to explore oil in the six blocks off Cambodia’s western coast.

‘’With the exception of Chevron, the government of Cambodia has not publicly announced the names of those companies to whom it has awarded oil and gas exploration rights,’’ states the report. ‘’Block A was awarded to U.S. oil company Chevron in 2002. Chevron’s activities in Block A are the most advanced of all oil companies currently operating in Cambodia.’’

GW estimates that oil will start flowing in 2011 and peak in 2021. Proceeds range from 174 million US dollars in the first year to 1.7 billion dollars when extraction peaks.

But GW doubts that such income from Cambodia’s natural resources will flow to those who need it most - the country’s millions still mired in poverty following nearly two decades of a bloody conflict and a brutal rule by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

Currently, over 35 percent of Cambodia’s 13.3 million people live in dire conditions, on less than one dollar a day. And U.N. reports have revealed that life expectancy is 58 years, while nearly a third of children under five years are malnourished.

Yet for a small cabal of political, military and economic elite, the period since the 1991 peace accords has been a journey on the road to immense - and ill-gotten - wealth. In 2007, for instance, GW revealed in a report that illegal logging in Cambodia by the elite raked in over 13 million dollars.

Such greed by the elite has not only raised the alarm that Cambodia is on the verge of becoming a kleptocracy, but it has been rated as among the most corrupt countries. In 2007, the global anti-graft watchdog Transparency International ranked Cambodia 162nd among 179 countries surveyed for corruption, making it the most corrupt country in Asia after Burma.

The ease with which the powerful few have filled their personal coffers stems from a lack of independent bodies backed by strong laws and resources to curb corruption. ‘’Any state that has weak anti-corruption institutions is not going to have proper level of oversight,’’ says Donald Bowser, head of the Cambodia office of the Mainstreaming Anti-corruption for Equity Project, funded by the development arm of the U.S. government.

‘’There are local concerns about the misuse of the country’s extractive industry for personal gain,’’ Bowser said during a telephone interview from Phnom Penh. ‘’A civil society coalition has been formed to campaign against this form of corruption.’’

But such campaigns face a daunting challenge. The Cambodian government under the grip of an increasingly authoritarian Prime Minster Hun Sen has yet to implement strong anti-corruption measures that have been called for by the country’s foreign donors, who fund nearly half the national budget.

Activists like Hayman of GW also point fingers at international financial institutions like the World Bank for being complicit in the corrupt culture of Cambodia’s rising kleptocrats. ‘’The World Bank is particularly bad,’’ he charges. ‘’They have a bad track record of forgetting civil society to monitor all steps of programmes in Cambodia to ensure accountability.’’

However, the Bank thinks otherwise. ‘’The World Bank shares many of the concerns NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have raised about the government’s management of extractive industry in Cambodia,’’ it said in a statement released to IPS from its Phnom Penh office.

‘’Although the Bank has not been directly involved in extractive industries in Cambodia, our dialogue with the government includes discussion of policy reforms that will help to ensure that any revenue generated through extractive industries benefit the people of Cambodia,’’ it added.
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Fish-dependent countries face climate change threat: study

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Climate change poses a grave threat to dozens of countries where people depend on fish for food, according to a study published Friday that said catches are imperilled by coastal storms and damage to coral reefs.

The WorldFish research centre identified 33 countries as "highly vulnerable" to the effects of climate change because of their heavy reliance on fisheries and limited alternative sources of protein.

Many of the group, which takes in the African nations of Malawi, Guinea, Senegal, Uganda; Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam in Asia; and Peru and Colombia in South America; are among the world's poorest countries.

"Low-lying highly populated countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia will face major inundations of crop land with rising sea levels and this will cause a loss of productive land and impact their economies badly," the study's lead author Edward Allison told AFP.

"As fish is central to many economies and diets, people in the tropics and subtropics will be affected as they have a limited ability to develop other sources of income and food in the face of such change," he added.

"The damage will be greatly compounded unless governments and international institutions like the World Bank act now to include the fish sector in plans for helping the poor cope with climate change."

Global fisheries provide more than 2.6 billion people with at least 20 percent of their average annual protein intake, the study said, citing UN data.

The report, prepared by the Malaysia-based WorldFish and a number of universities and research groups, said climate change threatened to destroy coral reefs, push salt water into freshwater habitats and produce more coastal storms.

It said that the 33 "highly vulnerable" countries produce 20 percent of the world's fish exports and that they should be given priority in efforts to help them adapt to climate change.

Two-thirds of the most vulnerable nations are in Africa, where fish accounts for more than half of the daily animal protein consumed and where fish production is highly sensitive to climate variations.

In South Asia, the report said potential problems including bleaching of coral reefs and changes in river flows as a result of reduced snowfalls present a danger to freshwater habitats.

Allison said the next step would be to investigate the impact climate change will have on these countries and the cost of adapting to the new environment.

He said a lack of data meant researchers were unable to include 60 nations including the tiny Pacific states of Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, and the military dictatorship of Myanmar, that were likely to be highly vulnerable.
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Cambodian, Taiwanese clubs team up for clean water

A US$22,700 water project is giving more than 350 households in northwestern Cambodia clean water from 80 hand-operated pump wells. Fourteen clubs in districts 3350, 3460, and 3490, which cover parts of Cambodia, Taiwan, and Thailand, and a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant have supported the effort.

Villagers using the wells, the last of which were drilled in December, previously obtained water from rivers and ponds. Less than 40 percent of rural Cambodians -- and less than 10 percent of the poorest half of the country's rural population -- have access to clean, potable water, according to the Cambodian Ministry of Planning.

Bunthai Prom, past president of the Rotary Club of Siem Reap Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia, which led the project, says villagers use the well water for vegetable gardening, drinking, and cooking. Households without well access received 80 water filters through the effort.

The project also taught villagers how to maintain the wells and educated them about the health benefits of clean water. The Siem Reap Angkor club provided training through radio broadcasts and direct visits. This month, the international sponsor clubs are holding a free medical service camp, which means that District Governor-elect Chin-Hsien Lee, of the Rotary Club of Panchiao North, Taiwan, and other Rotarians will spend a long day bouncing along remote roads to reach a dozen wells built through the project. When the driving becomes too rough, they will hike.

For the two-year-old Siem Reap Angkor club, which supervised a local drilling company's work during construction, the effort brought both challenges and rewards. "During the rainy season, we had difficulty transporting equipment to villages, but we all did our best," Prom says. "Our members are very committed."

The connection between clean water and child survival

Unsafe water and poor sanitation and hygiene kill 5,000 children under age five around the world every day, or more than 1.8 million each year. Eighty-eight percent of diarrheal disease is caused by contaminated water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene.

Globally, diarrhea kills more people than tuberculosis or malaria. Five times as many children die of diarrhea than HIV/AIDS.

The number of children who die around the world every year from diarrhea is equivalent to the number of children under age five living in London and New York combined.

For every US$1 contributed to water and sanitation projects, the expected return is between $3 and $34.

Sources: UNICEF, World Health Organization

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Cambodia to launch arbitration court later this year

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia's first informal court to resolve business disputes is moving forward for launch in 2009, with about 200 business and legal professionals already under training, said national media on Friday.

"A business dispute is not a good way to spend your time" and domestic and international disputes can be drastically shortened with an arbitration court, Renato Ganeo, manager of the training project, was quoted as saying by English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily.

Uncertainty, inefficiency and high costs in the judicial court system, not only in Cambodia but around the world, have led a number of countries to create alternative dispute resolution procedures that allow parties to bypass the formalities of the legal system, said Ganeo.

Mao Thora, secretary of state at the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce, said that the ministry is completing a sub-decree to create the new business arbitration council, which will save business the time and money that courts absorb.

"It can be a big expense, going to the normal court," he added.

Nguon Meng Tech, director general of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, said that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is giving 500,000 U.S. dollars for the new National Center for Business Arbitration, which will be in Phnom Penh and cost about 1 million U.S. dollars to build.
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