In an Interview with H.E. Mr. Ung Sean, Ambassador of Cambodia to India

“Agriculture sector is at the core of Cambodian government’s development strategy.”

 Cambodia and India have an ancient history of close and cordial relations. Can you comment on the contemporary relationship between the two nations?

Cambodia and India relations can be dated back since the 1st Century. Like most of Southeast Asia nations, Cambodian ancient civilization was influenced by Indian civilization ranging from religions, temple architecture, arts, languages etc. which can be seen until today.

In modern time, Cambodia and India established diplomatic relations in May 1952. In 1954, the late Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited Cambodia and later Cambodia’s late King Father Norodom Sihanouk reciprocated a visit to India. These visits marked new era of close and strong relations between the two countries. It is significant to note that both leaders were close friends and part of founders of the Non-Aligned Movement. However, the Cambodia and India relations were interrupted during the Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979. The relations of Cambodia-India resumed in 1981 after the fall of Khmer Rouge. It is noted that India was the first country to recognize the Government of People’s Republic of Kampuchea (Cambodia) while Cambodia was under embargo from western countries. India became one of the few friends Cambodia could rely upon in order to survive economically during the Cold War period. Beyond the recognition of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, India made major contributions to Cambodia’s peace process, leading to Paris Peace agreement in 1991.

In recent past, the two countries’ leaders have frequently exchanged visits. On Cambodian side, Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo HUN SEN, Prime Minister of Cambodia paid a state visit and attended the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in India in January 2018. This was his 9th visits to India. In February 2019, H.E. Mr. Pan Sorasak, Minister of Commerce of Cambodia attended the 4th India-ASEAN Expo and Summit in New Delhi. In July 2019, H.E. Mrs. Eat Sophea, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affair and International Cooperation of Cambodia co-chaired the 2nd Foreign Office Consultation between Cambodia and India in New Delhi. On Indian side, H.E. Mr. Suresh Prabhu, then Minister of Commerce and Industry of India, co-chaired 5th India-CLMV Business Conclave, held at Phnom Penh in May 2018.H.E. Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, then Minister of Defence, paid an official visit to Cambodia in June 2018. H.E. Ms. Sushma Swaraj, the late Minister of External Affairs of India, paid an official visit to Cambodia in August 2018.These are the highlights and reflection of the close relations between the two countries. Besides, Government of India has provided support and assistance to Cambodia in various sectors which include, among others, human resource development, rural development, irrigation system development and temple restoration and preservation.

 On November 9th, Cambodia celebrates its 68th independence day. How does the Royal Embassy of Cambodia in India usually celebrate this day?

Cambodia gained its independence from France on 09 November 1953 through great devotion and effort of Cambodia’s late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, our Father of Independence. The main celebrations are held in Phnom Penh beginning with a formal ceremony at the Independence Monument and followed by a parade. In the evening, the Royal Palace and other buildings are illuminated and a huge fireworks display takes place near the riverbanks of the Royal Palace.

Here in New Delhi, the Royal Embassy of Cambodia organize a gathering with Cambodian community. We also organize Independence Day reception every 5 years, during which Indian government dignitaries, friends from other diplomatic mission and Indian private sectors are invited.

Contemporary times have witnessed an expansion of cooperation in diverse fields such as institutional capital building, human resource development, and extension of financial assistance to infrastructure projects, security and defense. Which sector is Cambodia the most interested in attracting foreign investment? What are the major Indian companies in Cambodia? Where do you think India and Cambodia could collaborate more?

Major industries which attract foreign investment include garments and footwear, agriculture, and tourism. With low-cost labor force and trade preference granted by the US and other countries, garment and footwear has attracted foreign investment, mostly from China, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia. These factories supply around 200 international brands including H&M, GAP, Levi Strauss & Co, and Adidas.

Agriculture sector is at the core of Cambodian government’s development strategy. Cambodia’s fragrant rice has been awarded the accolade four times – in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2018. Several foreign companies successfully invested in industrial crops through Cambodia’s Economic Land Concession Scheme. Cambodia also encourages investment in agricultural valued added products, particularly food processing.

In Tourism sector, Cambodia’s cultural heritages and numerous sites of natural beauty has facilitated tremendous growth in tourist arrival over the past decades. In addition to the world-famous Angkor Wat temple, Cambodia benefits from a stunning coastline, tropical islands and some of the most impressive ecotourism spot in Southeast Asia. Tourism has contributed 21% of Cambodia’s GDP growth in 2019. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the sector earned US$ 4.9 billion from 6.6 million international visitors in 2019.In order to boost tourism sector, the direct air connectivity between Cambodia and India should be established as agreed by leaders of the two countries,

Besides, there are other areas of opportunity such as ICT and new technology, healthcare and pharmaceutical, renewable energy and education.

There are potential areas that Cambodia and India can work together to boost bilateral trade. India is pharmaceutical hub. India has many major pharmaceutical companies and we would love to see those companies to invest in Cambodia, which will allow them to access to ASEAN market and beyond. Agriculture sectors are also potential areas that both countries can collaborate. Cambodia has a fertile land and most of its population are farmers. What remains challenge for Cambodia is processing those agricultural products to add more value. So, this is an opportunity for Indian companies to consider investing in Cambodia in this area.

To further promote bilateral trade, Cambodia and India are trying to negotiate bilateral Free Trade Agreement. Furthermore, both side are also negotiating on the draft Bilateral Investment Treaty and the establishment of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Trade and Investment. I strongly believe that there will be more investment and trade activities between the two countries when the documents come into force. In addition to this, Cambodia has passed a new investment law which offer more incentives to investors which will give more benefits to Indian investors for investing in Cambodia. I strongly believe that once the above documents were signed, there will be more Indian companies and investors interest in doing business and invest in Cambodia.


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