Cambodia has asked the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for financial and technical assistance to strengthen the digital business landscape, as senior officials acknowledge that the Kingdom still suffers from notable shortcomings in the sector.

Assistance from the Metro Manila-based multilateral lender is expected to help Cambodia keep pace with and consistent with the Cambodia Digital Economy and Social Policy Framework 2021-2035.

The request was made during the 10th Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum, held from August 29 to September 1 and co-organised by the ADB, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), and the Singaporean Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on August 31.

Commerce ministry secretary of state Sok Sopheak took the opportunity of the forum to meet with ADB chief economist Albert Park to exchange views and opinions on recent developments in trade and investment in Cambodia.

At the meeting, Sopheak requested that the ADB consider providing financial and technical resources to address ongoing challenges, with a particular focus on the digital business sector.

He stressed that Cambodia faces hurdles in the formulation of strategic policies that concern the recovery of regional and global supply and value chains, as well as designing ICT (information and communications technology) infrastructure development projects that support digital integration and trade facilitation.

“Trade facilitation” is the general term for the overall framework of measures aimed at removing legal and technical obstacles across the full spectrum of border procedures to help make the international movement of imports and exports cheaper, easier, faster and more efficient and predictable, while safeguarding safety, security, health and other legitimate regulatory goals.

Sopheak commented that the commerce ministry’s Trade Training and Research Institute (TTRI) also requires a leg-up to strengthen the capacities and skills of officials involved in negotiations for free trade deals.

Ministry spokesman Penn Sovicheat vouched for ADB’s willingness to support Cambodia through technical projects, especially in terms of trade, noting that the Kingdom’s latest request also aims to undergird the implementation of the Cambodia Digital Economy and Social Policy Framework 2021-2035.

He said his ministry would also implement a project involving “e-commerce diplomacy infrastructure as well as e-commerce training for small- and medium-sized enterprises”.

The ADB affirms that it is one of Cambodia’s largest sources of official development assistance, with an average annual lending of $329.8 million from 2016-2021.

Royal Academy of Cambodia economics researcher Ky Sereyvath sees the digital economy as a key issue for the Kingdom, which he remarked was relatively late on the bandwagon, and only focused on the transition during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Cambodia has only been truly active in the digital economy during the Covid-19 crisis, which has helped keep the economy afloat even if sellers and buyers cannot meet in person,” he said, adding that developed countries in particular have been striving to strengthen digital business during the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The ADB says that as of 2021, it has committed 319 public sector loans, grants, and technical assistance totalling $4.2 billion to Cambodia, focusing on education, health, infrastructure, rural development, energy, transportation, infrastructure, among other areas.