As Cambodia moves forward with its Industrial Development Policy (IDP), the government is seeking support from international organisations for smooth implementation. The Post’s Kali Kotoski sat down with Li Yong, director-general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), to discuss his findings and how the organisation can help promote government policy.
What did you hope to achieve during your visit and which stakeholders did you meet with?
Well, this is my first trip to Cambodia since I became director-general of UNIDO. So it was very important to listen to the leaders of this country on the prime minister level, ministry level and the private sector level as well as other developmental agencies like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Their views and vision of Cambodia’s industrial development strategy and how effectively the government is implementing its own policy was very important for this mission. I also met with numerous ambassadors to get their input on Cambodia’s current development.
What did people in those meetings say?
What I heard from the various ministers is that they want help from UNIDO to implement its Industrial Development Policy (IDP) as it faces new challenges. The prime minister told me that UNIDO can help in the agricultural sector, but they want to focus on large-scale agribusiness, food processing and supply chain dynamics so that they can enter into global and regional markets.
What has been holding back SME development?
With FDI coming in and bringing technology and skilled labour, it creates a win-win situation for the country. And eventually this will provide local SME’s the space to move up. But most importantly the government must understand that it needs to change its mindset to capture global manufacturing. Of course SMEs will develop faster when industrial development moves forward.
What is UNIDO’s current level of commitment in Cambodia?
Our current cooperation is a five-year program that runs from 2016 to 2020. That cooperation covers SME development and sustainable industrial development. While we are implementing that, we still need to find financing for some of our programs. But currently we have five projects worth $12 million and another four projects in the pipeline that are geared towards the fisheries industry, trade facilitation and quality infrastructure. Before we would just do small projects here and there, but now we want larger involvement and a greater partnership. So, if we continue a country partnership it will be more comprehensive in order to bring in more FDI.
Where do you see the greatest opportunity for stable job creation?
Agriculture if large-scale agribusiness takes off and they get it right. While agriculture has been struggling, I do believe the government and the donor community has been working hard to support the sector. But our understanding is that they need to create value chains to support the sector’s growth with local processing otherwise value is lost. For instance, Cambodia produces a lot of cassava but they do not process it here and that is a waste when it comes to creating value.
With Cambodia growing at 7 percent a year, is the government doing enough to make sure development is inclusive?
For UNIDO, we would primarily like to see job creation through industrial development. But of course the distribution of the wealth and a social welfare system is one of the issues we focus on. What we want to see is inclusive industrial development. All people in Cambodia should have the same opportunities for prosperity and hopefully government policy actually does that.
In your meetings with the private sector, were there any concerns raised about the current political environment?
We did not have any of those types of discussions with the people I met. But we did talk about how the government needs to speed up its approval of FDI projects because you can’t have investors waiting for one or two years. FDI moves quickly and will go to other countries if Cambodia’s process for approval is slow.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity