Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung,
Excellency Heads of the ACMECS Governments
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Concerning our today agenda to review progress of ACMECS implementation after four years in pursuing Bagan Declaration and setting the future direction for ACMECS cooperation, I am pleased to note that significant progress has been achieved in bilateral projects between Thailand and member countries, and between Vietnam and other member countries in the areas of agriculture, transport linkages and HRD cooperation.
In cooperation between Cambodia and Thailand, we have notably made considerable progress in implementing some projects such as the completion of Road 48, the construction of Road 67; and the Project on technology transfer in field crops production improvement was implemented in 4 provinces in Cambodia. This project would allow Cambodia to increase the productivity of maize, castor beans, sesame, soya bean, cassava, sugarcane, coffee and cashew nut, which are critically important for increasing agricultural productivity.
In our bilateral cooperation with Vietnam, we have started the construction of Road 78 from Banlung to O Yadav, Vietnamese border. The project on strengthening cooperation in trade promotion and project on establishment of the opened markets at border gates has been implemented. I appreciate that the construction of high/medium Voltages Power interconnection is on the way. However, I would urge to speed up this project as Cambodia increasingly need power supply for people and economic activities.
While we have considerable successes in ACMECS cooperation, we are facing a couple of challenges such as the recent financial crisis in the US and Europe and the increased food prices. These challenges can have negative impacts on our efforts in promoting growth and poverty reduction.
The recent financial crisis can easily proliferate to our country. As a result of the ASEM meeting in Beijing, China and members of ASEAN and ASEAN+3 agreed that the impact of the financial crisis can be mitigated by expediting and strengthening the implementation of the Chiang Mai Initiative. However, this financial crisis is not a very serious problem for us since we see that our financial sector is sound and safe and is not widely exposed to external financial system. Nevertheless, we are still concerned about the impact of the crisis on our real economy. The decreased demand in developed countries, the reduced tourists and the fall of foreign investment into our region would have negative impact on employment and economic growth, especially the livelihood of the poor and vulnerable groups.
Indeed, it has been said that “crisis goes along with opportunities”. The current global financial crisis presents opportunity for us to strengthen and expand cooperation and regional integration in order to maximize benefit from our great economic potentials through expanding cooperation in financial and banking sectors, trade promotion, investment and tourism promotion in the region. In so doing, actions and measures aimed at promoting and strengthening regional integration are very timely and important in today context.
Another issue is the steady increase in foods and fuel prices which highly affects our economies. But if looking from another angle, I would say that higher food prices also present opportunity for developing countries to increase investment in agriculture in order to boost productivity and export. Specifically, Cambodia has about two million hectares of land for rice production. Its existing irrigation system can cover 30 percent of the land. We can expand land to three million hectares for rice production. Moreover, Cambodia could cultivate about two to three times per year on the same land areas if we have enough water source and sufficient irrigation system. Therefore, I think that Cambodia has huge potential and can become a major exporter of rice. While seeing drought rice fields during dry season, it always reminds me that this is a great potential for Cambodia, which we can use it by investing in irrigation system and farmers’ productivity. Presently, Cambodia has investment agreements with Kuwait and Qatar to improve agricultural productivity, especially in rice cultivation.
In this context, I am very pleased with the successful conclusion of the trade ministers’ meeting last year which has come up with concrete plan of action and specific timeframe aimed at enhancing our cooperation in food. We have to admit that although ACMECS countries produce about 55 million tons of milled rice per year, accounting for 13% of the world’s total production, our rice farmers are still facing many problems of poverty and poor livelihoods. The benefits go more to rice traders who can influence prices of rice in the international market. Thus, cooperation in rice production and trade would improve the living conditions of our respective farmers who make up the majority of our population.
At the same time, we also need to exert our outmost efforts to promote projects in the areas of industrial and energy cooperation and the establishment of wholesale markets along the borders, and other common projects, which require substantial investments. In other word, we should make our utmost efforts to move those projects from “Study Status” to “Actual Implementation”.
In this regard, Cambodia highly appreciates the proposed declaration on Facilitation of Trade and Investment and Tourism, which will not only promote trade and increase the inflows of tourists, but also promote general development of the member countries.
To move ACMECS cooperation forward, I would like to share with you my humble thoughts as follows:
First, I believe that we should maximize the opportunities for private sector involvement. Therefore, our meeting with the Business Sector today is an appropriate step to maximize support from the private sector. We should encourage business sectors of the five countries to meet more often, thus they can materialize their support for ACMECS projects.
Second, we should work together to generate more support under multilateral frameworks, particularly to attract international financing. We should follow up on the support of the development partners for the 14 flagship projects at the Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Pakse in 2006.
Cambodia supports the initiative to transform Southeast Asia as a commercial transportation hub. I am pleased to announce that under the GMS framework, the ADB has approved the funding of US$42 million for a missing railway link of 48 Km from Sisophon to Poi Pet. Malaysia provided used rail of US$2.8 million. And OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) provided US$13 million for the rehabilitation of the railway link from Sisophon to Sihanouk Ville. This will not only connect Cambodia to Thailand, but also complete the Singapore-Kunming rail link, which will become a transportation backbone among the ACMECS countries.
For our future direction, I strongly believe that we should mobilize our resources and double our efforts to implement the existing projects in the 2006 ACMECS Plan of Action. This already well reflects the current circumstances, priorities and needs of member countries and guides the ACMECS cooperation towards the year 2012. In this regard, we should mandate our Foreign Ministers and Senior Officials to closely oversee and monitor the respective working group of the seven sectors of ACMECS focusing on concrete implementation at project level. To this end, Cambodia would be very pleased to host the Fourth ACMECS Summit in 2010.
Finally, I would like to reiterate my optimism that steps of concrete cooperation, which we jointly implement at this moment, will ensure the success of our main goal of good relations among the five neighboring countries. This will transform our region into a zone of peace, sustainable growth, prosperity and harmony.