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France-Cambodia Business Forum: Hun Manet, a Francophile and enthusiastic Prime Minister

On the opening day of the France-Cambodia Business Forum held yesterday, Monday 8 July 2024, at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra, a smiling and enthusiastic Prime Minister made a point of speaking in French for the first part of his speech.

Prime minister Hun Manet
Prime minister Hun Manet

After thanking the Forum's organisers and participants, and speaking in front of a packed audience, the head of the royal government warmly welcomed "all his French friends, those who are coming for the first time or who are returning to this beautiful country that is Cambodia".

"Like all Cambodians and most of you, I love football. And I am delighted that France has qualified for the semi-finals of the European Cup. I hope with all my heart that it will win the championship", he announced before continuing his speech in his native language and on more economic matters.

Welcoming more French investment

"Cambodia is ready to welcome and help investors to the best of its ability, and I would like to express my sincere gratitude to those French businessmen who have chosen - a wise decision - to invest directly in Cambodia or to join forces with local companies," he said, stressing:

"I would like to express my optimism for this second Cambodia-France Business Forum, and I am confident that it will attract more investment from France. France remains a key partner for Cambodia in trade and other sectors.”

Samdech Thipadei Hun Manet went on to mention that many French companies, ranging from multinationals to SMEs, had already been operating in Cambodia for many years, including Vinci, Total Energies, Accor, BRED Bank and various SMEs run by French entrepreneurs.

The Prime Minister emphasised that these French investments were making a significant contribution to job creation (Vinci is one of the country's largest employers), skills transfer and infrastructure development, "thereby laying the foundations for sustainable economic growth in Cambodia".

The PM then recalled that over the past two years, diplomatic relations between France and Cambodia had improved considerably, notably with several official visits by Cambodian leaders to France, including his own visit in the presence of a Cambodian business delegation on 18 and 19 January 2024.

PM Hun Manet during his speech
PM Hun Manet during his speech

During this visit, seven deals were signed in key sectors such as energy, infrastructure and distribution, "marking a new era of cooperation between France and Cambodia".

Still on the subject of the desire to welcome more French economic presence in his country, the Cambodian PM was keen to encourage French businessmen to "explore the Kingdom's investment potential and make strategic decisions by taking advantage of the strong and growing bilateral relations between the two countries".

"Once again, Cambodia is ready to welcome these businessmen and support them in their efforts to explore and set up operations, and to enable them to take advantage of our strategic position within ASEAN", he stressed, also pointing out that the Royal Government was working closely with the private sector - with joint working groups on which several French entrepreneurs sit - to develop more efficient and transparent operational and tax procedures. The PM cited as an example the "facilitation of trade with the reduction of logistical costs by making available a single national window for completing customs formalities before the arrival of goods".

Francophonie Summit

During the event, the Prime Minister reiterated Cambodia's bid to host the 20th Francophonie Summit in 2026 in the provincial capital Siem Reap. "This prestigious event will showcase Cambodia's rich cultural heritage and its commitment to the principles of La Francophonie. The news was greeted with great satisfaction and relief among the few French entrepreneurs from Siem Reap present in the room.

"It's not just the prestige of the event and the influence of La Francophonie, it's also an opportunity to attract more business to a town that is currently experiencing some economic difficulties, particularly for our SMEs", said one of them.

Cambodia has submitted its bid and requested that Siem Reap host the summit. The official decision will only be taken in a few months' time. However, with so much political, institutional and diplomatic support for the Cambodian bid, there are good reasons to be optimistic that the Kingdom, and therefore Siem Reap, will be chosen to host the summit.

At a press briefing in January, ambassador Jacques Pellet announced that if the bid was successful, it was highly likely that the French head of state would visit the Kingdom.

Reminder

The Business Forum is organised by the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Cambodia (CCIFC), in partnership with the Cambodia Committee of French Foreign Trade Advisors (CCEF) and the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC), with the support of the French Embassy in Cambodia, MEDEF International and the Cambodian Oknha Association.

According to the French Embassy in Cambodia, the volume of trade between France and the Kingdom reached €1,363 million in 2023. France is now Cambodia's 2nd largest trading partner in Europe, behind Germany. French exports to Cambodia in 2023 were 31% higher than in 2022, consisting mainly of agri-food products, pharmaceuticals and metal and metal products. Meanwhile, French imports from Cambodia reached €1,192m in 2023, mainly in textiles, agri-food products and bicycles.

With a stock of around €560m, French investment in the Kingdom has also risen, particularly in the construction, agro-industry and services sectors.


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