The government refused to make any major immediate changes to policy concerning Covid-19 quarantine requirements for residents, business owners, employees and investors, and other key issues put forward by the private sector as the coronavirus pandemic continues to flare.
It indicated, however, that it would be keen to revisit the matter in the near future, particularly after the vaccination programme is completed, an acknowledgement that instilled a renewed sense of confidence among private sector businesses that future dialogue with the state could yield meaningful, grounded and purposeful results.
The announcement comes after a meeting of Government-Private Sector Working Group D on August 3, led by Minister of Economy and Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Aun Pornmoniroth and working group co-chair Arnaud Darc, International Business Chamber of Cambodia executive committee member.
The private sector had sought to compel a prompt shift in the government’s Covid-19 approach on a range of key issues, with a primary emphasis on quarantine requirements.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia (AmCham) said in a press release: “Both sides expressed their appreciation for having open dialogue and trying to find solutions for the concerns from the private sector.”
AmCham president Anthony Galliano, who also joined the meeting, stressed that it was “so encouraging” to see the private and public sectors come together to table the most critical of market issues impacting the Kingdom, such as vaccinations, quarantine, the economy, tourism, hospitality, health and safety, and reopening.
“The highest levels of the Royal Government, the heads of the chambers of commerce, and the country’s leading businessmen are collaborating.
“While the pace of what is desired by the business community may not be accelerated, there was a positive step – the permission for dining-in for Phnom Penh for restaurants that follow the safety protocols,” he said.
Galliano lauded the meeting as “a superb start and a great community attending to the most pressing commerce needs”.
In a bid to allay some of the lingering concerns, the finance minister urged relevant stakeholders from the government, especially sub-committees on international people movements and quarantine, to remain actively engaged with the private sector – more so on matters related to quarantine durations and hotels designated as isolation centres – to make it easier for investors to comply with the applicable health guidelines.
“All these tasks are top-priority and will contribute to business-easing for the private sector, as well as to post-Covid-19 economic restoration,” Pornmoniroth was quoted as saying.
Cambodia drastically downgraded its economic forecast for 2021 to 2.5 per cent from the 4.1 per cent projection announced at the beginning of the year, due to the deteriorating Covid-19 situation, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen on August 1.
The downgrade reflects, inter alia, the pandemic’s impact on the key economic sectors of Cambodia’s trading partners and ongoing production chain disruptions, he said.
But AmCham’s Galliano held on to hopes for an economic rebound closer to four per cent this year, stressing that the economy remains stable with “only a marginal decline of 3.1 per cent in 2020”, despite the “stubborn reverberations of the virus”.
“Unfortunately, Cambodia cannot strongly rebound on its own as we live and depend upon a global economy to a substantial degree,” he told The Post on August 9.
“While the Kingdom has successfully vaccinated 73 per cent of its population over 18 years of age, and 47 per cent in total, neighbouring Asian countries, with few exceptions, are not as expeditious. As a result, new waves of infections have resulted in some countries returning to pandemic restrictions which will slow growth again in 2021.
“The resilience of the economy is due to the Royal Government’s management, highest priority on vaccinating the population as fast as possible and mobilising resources to do so, keeping business open to the greatest extent possible while balancing safety and security, and instituting measures to contain the virus swiftly and firmly for reasonable and minimal periods,” he said.
Cambodian exports to the US during the January-June period were valued at $3.6376 billion, climbing 32.4 per cent year-on-year, which Galliano identified as one of many “saving bright spots”.
“With the strong 6.4 per cent rebound in GDP [gross domestic product] in the first quarter, the US economy, which is now completely open for business, is the number one export destination for Cambodian-made products and likely to continue to be so. This will underpin the Kingdom’s garment industry in 2021, until Europe full returns to normal.
“With the success of the speed of vaccinations and containment of the virus, Cambodia is positioned as a first-starter to opening the country back to international business. This should resurrect the real estate and construction industry and with global economies rebounding, the garment industry should further strengthen.
“Unfortunately, the tourism sector will take much longer to recover, save Sihanoukville which should offset some of the pain,” he said.
The Ministry of Health announced that 58 more cases of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant were confirmed by the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge on August 7, bringing the total to 385.