Pacific Perspective


Friday, September 21, 2001

Hawaii may find
biz opportunity
in Cambodia

Cambodia has not made much news lately. For many people, no news is good news in this Southeast Asia country, known to the world as the "killing fields." This country of 11.5 million people finally is showing signs that it can usher in a more hopeful future.

During a fact-finding mission with the State of Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, I inter- acted with some leaders of the royal government of Cambodia, UH alumni and the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia. Cambodian leaders -- many with U.S. educations -- have demonstrated a strong political will to establish a foundation for poverty reduction through accelerated economic growth, environmental sustainability and social equity.

That will is represented by a three-dimensional strategy: Build peace by restoring stability and maintaining security, integrate Cambodia into the international economic and business communities, and promote key reform programs (such as military demobilization and reform of the fiscal, public and judiciary sectors). Given that the harsh economic and social realities of a developing nation remain present -- corruption, social vices and the weaknesses of the rule of law -- this is an overwhelming effort and will require at least a couple of decades to achieve.

This effort has started to bear fruit, however. Income per capita was only $280 in 1999. It remains one of the lowest in the world, but is growing. Foreign direct investment is picking up. And as a new ASEAN member, Cambodia is seeking to abide by the world group's guidelines on environmental protection and sustainable development.

In the process of discovering the appropriate path toward poverty reduction, Cambodia is trying to expand beyond its $1 billion garment industry, which represents 90 percent of the country's export earnings. Encouraged by an increasing number of tourist arrivals (almost half a million foreign visitors in 2000 with the number of tourist arrivals increasing by 40 percent during the first quarter of 2001), the country has identified tourism as the new economic engine. However, as visi- tors have arrived, this country has discovered its weaknesses in tourism infrastructure, management and development. Roads and airports need to be built or upgraded. Hotels, restaurants and tourist-related businesses have to be expanded. And most importantly, the know-how in the tourism industry needs to be improved.

To alleviate these deficiencies, the Cambodian government plans to use foreign aid to seek international partnerships. Among its priorities, there are at least four areas in which Hawaii has a competitive advantage: development and implementation of plans to im- prove the quality of services in the tourism industry; human resource training and education in business administration and tourism; development of communications and other technology to support economic devel- opment, and urban planning and construction. Another Ha- waii advantage is that we have a small network of UH alumni familiar with the country, as well as the support of the U.S. Embassy. These need areas are what Hawaii is known for and Cambodia could bring lucrative opportunities to Hawaii businesses -- at a time when Hawaii needs to look at diversifying its base of export earnings.

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