I am so glad that we have the opportunity to meet once again in the Preah Sihanoukville Autonomous Port on the 127th anniversary of the International Labor Day. As promised, I have to make my schedule to come here every year, though dues to unexpected circumstance I also could not make it a few times. Today, the 127th anniversary of the International Labor Day, on behalf of the Royal Government and myself, I would convey my greatest thank and joy with all of the workers throughout the country.
Many Events on May 1
According to the report by HE Ith Samheng, various events are held today. Some 238 factories, enterprises and companies are holding various fun activities for 342,168 workers. Some other workers may also take this day off to just rest at home or to visit their parents. Some may also take this opportune moment to share the time with their fiancées. It is also true that some workers are also taking their rights to the street to demand better work conditions. Initiated some 127 years ago, these rights are ensured by the Royal Government.
However, the number of workers taking pleasure in those events thrown out by their factories, companies and enterprises seems bigger than those taking part in the demonstration. We may consider it their rights to stay at home and not to join the march. On this note, it is also true when it comes to the election. People have the right to go to vote and not to vote. Voters may vote, not vote for, or vote in abstention for a candidate or party. It is their right. Going out and march in the street to demand this and that is one’s right, but enjoying the day and stay home with family is also their right to do so.
I am so grateful for the presence of our workers, employers and employees, and I noted that retired ones are also present today. I would like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the efforts lately made by leaders, government officials as well as those of the workers and staff of the Preah Sihanoukville Autonomous Port on this very joyous occasion.
More Rice Go Through the Port
According to the report by HE Tram Iv Toek, Minister for Transports and Public Works, there is a strong indication that the amount of rice exported to foreign market via the port has gone up 102% compared to same period in 2012. That is a good sign for our objective figure of rice export no less than one million tons by the year 2015. In fact, we produced a large quantity of rice but we did not have the right milling and processing capacity. That is what I called “where there is gold but there is no paper to pack it” situation. The more rice we have but we could not mill and sell them the way we wanted.
As of present, there are increasing investments in preparation of rice export. In the first three months of this year, the export figure of rice has marked 72,000 tons compared to 35,000 tons last year for the same period. The figure has ensured our hope. In 2010, we did 51,000 tons, 2011, 148,000 and 2012, 180,000 tons. Since we already achieved 72,000 tons for the first three months of this year, we hope that by 2015, the port will be a good place to monitor the amount of rice going through to foreign markets.
It is another good sign that we have recorded the export, twice already, of 15,000 tons the dried cassava chips. We have million tons of cassava but we have not found the right market for it. However, with efforts made to establish relation with foreign markets, especially with the People’s Republic of China, the country with the largest population in the world, our cassava goes via this port to the Chinese markets.
It is not our only intention to export our dried cassava to foreign markets but to attract investments for processing it in the country so that we will be able to export half-processed or final products. We have to make further efforts to channel investors into this sector, especially the investment in food processing to produce feedings for animal to make use of agricultural crops like corn, cassava, etc. that we have in abundance. We need to involve more actively in opening wider access to foreign markets.
Cambodia Would Have Developed Fast if It Were Not for the 1970 Coup
I would take this chance and time to make a small remark in relation to the progress made in this port. HE Tram Iv Toek already made a presentation to you all the different stages of development the port has gone through so far. However, before grasping all those, please let me speak a bit about the fact that why all these are possible. There is a saying that goes ‘once drinking the water, one has to think of its source’ or ‘eating a fruit, one has to think of from where it comes.’ While talking about all these achievements, we also have to think about Samdech Ov Preah Borom Ratanak Kaod, Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, for the efforts and resources he had spent in building the Preah Sihanouk Sea Port with a railway connecting it to Phnom Penh.
Though it was true that goods going through this port was less than one million tons in 1960s before the coup in 1970s, one should be clear that one million tons of goods was not a small amount at all in 1970. It was indicating a resounding development of the country. It is in this thought that I always say that if there were not March 18-1970 coup against Samdech Ov, Samdech Ta and Samdech Ta Tuot (great grandfather), up to today, Cambodia would not be less developed than those neighboring countries as we are today. We may have noted with pride altogether the astonishing development of the port and the quantifying amount of goods exported to foreign destinations. That is the truth.
Were there no coup and the port were uninterruptedly operational, and the country were not at war, could anyone imagine how far the country could have gone? Our people’s income would not be recorded at just 1,000 USD per annum as it is today. It could have reached thousand or tens of thousands already. According to a study conducted by HE Sun Chanthol and presented during the trip to accompany HM the King to Mondulkiri, in those days when Cambodia’s per capita income was 200 USD, it was recorded that in South Korea, their per capita income was only 62 USD. The condition in which the two countries were comparatively studied was that Cambodia came out of the French colony and South Korea from war. Cambodia made it fast.
This has clearly shown that whoever creates this tragedy has brought about disaster to the people and the port as well. I am so pleased that we have attached Samdech Ov or Samdech Preah Borom Ratanak Kaod’s name Preah Norodom Sihanouk to this province, where the port from his time is serving as a breathing machine for our economy. The province will be staying with his name forever as long as the Cambodian People’s Party is in power. However, there would be no guarantee that this name could go on when other parties come to power. It will be up to them since we do not have the right to do it otherwise. After all, I do not believe they would win, though they have made ‘winning’ their recurring slogan all along.
Improved Work Condition and Salary
I think I told you a story when I was here last time about a ship and three men. They argued about which one is fast. I think I told this story once in 2003. Now I do not buy the thought that we would have lost in one election from two-third of the seats in the National Assembly to below 50+1. I find it unscientific. I do not believe that our people would deny the fact that the country’s economic growth has gradually ensured and improved. They all know clearly for themselves when they compared themselves to 2008. They would know right away that between then and now, the elections in 2013, what they have gained in extra.
Our workers also know clearly how much they earned in 2008 as their monthly salary. I could recall that it was like 50 USD, then 61 USD and now 80 USD. As of May this year, the principal salary of the workers will be no less than 80 USD. Since they would work extra hours, in various cases, our workers would earn more than 80 USD per month. I would not have any objection too if factory or employer would give their workers 200 USD per month. Apparently, more and more factories are competing for workers and their salary offer in some instances is 100 USD and higher.
As for the employees in the Autonomous Port of Preah Sihanoukville (Samdech asks the workers), the salary in average is over one million Riel (more than 250 USD). The issue here is that any given principal salary must not be lower than 80 USD. There is nothing wrong to give more but not less. Factories and enterprises should compete on their provision of salary, healthcare, housing, childcare and food for their workers. I am sure that where there is good policy on these issues, workers are satisfied and work harder. On this note, I would stress that workers or farmers themselves know clearly the progress they made between 2008, the last elections and the next election, which is coming in less than three months.
If they were to compare to their living patterns since 1979, there would be a clear contrast. I still do not think the Cambodian People’s Party, which has gone from 51 seats in the National Assembly to 64, then to 73 and then to 90, would lose the elections. I still find it hard to digest the idea that it would lose forty of its seats. The opposition has the right to say whatever they like to but I am sure the Cambodian People’s Party will retain its winning status. However, the voters’ decisions will be the key to this.
As for this port, I used to recall many times, I have plenty of memories and souvenirs that make me think about how to keep and develop it. Just now, I was talking about the fact that when one drinks water, one has to know where it is coming from. I mean we have to think of Samdech Preah Borom Ratanak Kaod, Samdech Ov (father), Samdech Ta (grandfather) Preah Norodom Sihanouk who made tremendous efforts in building our country. As was recorded in his time, this port saw nearly one million tons of goods going out of the country. Can you imagine that being such a small country, the trade relation – mainly rice and rubber – reached almost one million tons. You may be reminded that we sold rice to countries in Africa those days.
It was quite unfortunate that the March 18, 1970 coup had brought about war all over the country. The country went into further destruction under the Pol Pot’s regime. Some politicians made their remark and denunciation only on what had happened on April 17 (1975) but never they dare to do so on the coup of March 18 (1970). Politicians who have the sense of responsibility must take the truth accountable, even if that would mean they have to denounce (actions of) their alliance. Those invaded Cambodia in 1970s were in fact their current bosses.
Actually, who supported the regime of Lon Nol? Would they dare talk out about it? Was it true or not that Lon Nol and Sirik Matak launched the coup? After the coup, who gave them support? Would they dare denounce the US, former South Vietnamese regime and other countries for the bombardment and destruction of Cambodia? They only started their argument from April 17 (1975). They never give their account on why there was this event on April 17, 1975. It all started from the event of March 18, 1970. If there were not this event on March 18, there would not be those events (1) on April 17, which brought about the genocidal regime, (2) the 2-December (1978) establishment of the National United Front for Salvation of Kampuchea, (3) the 7 January 1979 liberation day, and (4) the Paris Peace Agreement on 23 October 1991.
I urge all politicians to be brave and recognize the truth and historical fact. Some of them never touch the issue because they are afraid (it would anyhow relate them to those events). In fact, even the US citizen has written about the fall of the regime of Lon Nol, the bombardment of Cambodia in order from President Nixon in what is widely known to be operation “breakfast” in 1969. I brought this matter up to remind all of us that if the country remained under the leadership of Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, whom we currently refer to as Samdech Preah Borom Ratanak Kaod, we would not have faced tragedies and hardships in the efforts to reconstruct the country, where there have been graves and destruction beyond description.
I have a live memory of the time when I was the head of this commission to sort out congested goods that were coming in as assistance to the Cambodian people in the seaport of Kompong Som, or currently the Autonomous Port of Preah Sihaniukville. It has always a live memory of workers using their trousers as sags to put rice in. The task was hard then. There were not many people in the city and we depended completely on human labor to carry goods. There were no cranes and lift as we do today. People carry them on their shoulders and backs.
There have been many requests to invest in the development of the port. I always say I would not agree to any proposal that would depend on my rice flour to make rice cake for me. I bring this matter up every year because there have been this push for privatization of the port. It is to my disagreement always. We have put a strong rebuff to the idea. Now we have secured fund from Japan for the expansion of the port. I came for the first expansion of 240 meters and again 160 meters. We extended the port 400 meters in all. Last year we put into operation the special economic zone adjacent to the port.
We are consulting and planning to turn it into a multipurpose port with its water depth of 13.5 meters to allow docking of the 50,000 tons capacity ship. As of present, our port only docks ship of 20,000 tons. Any bigger ship would have to dock in Singapore first to transfer delivery to smaller ships to bring them to Cambodia. We also anticipate busy actions when it comes to oil operation in the area. Therefore, it is important that we need to bring our port capacity to the next level.
Autonomous Port Share
As is planned, we will bring the Autonomous Port of Preah Sihanoukville (APS) into the stock market. It is still under discussion. There are many requirements and conditions. Take for instance, the fact that we have borrowed from Japan in Yen, what does that mean when we quantify them in USD, especially when we repay the loan. We hope to list the APS in the Cambodian stock market to accumulate more funds for further port development. No matter what we will do, this port will not fall into private hands. We will continue with the public enterprise management.
I would in this instance offer my appreciation for the efforts made by directors and leaders as well as those of the governing board. I also appreciate the efforts made in relation to what we call “all actions under one roof.” I inaugurated in 2009 this “actions under one roof,” where custom, CAMCONTROL and economic police are staying under one roof in their operation. It has become an experience not only in this port but also in other passes, whether it is a port or an airport. It has also served as a good example of how to facilitate the cross-border trade between Cambodia and other countries using what they call “one-stop service.”
Port Activities Development
In relation to that, I also give my appreciation to related institutions, especially the Preah Sihanouk provincial authority and armed forces for their good cooperation with the port, which has altogether assured the loading growth of the port. The port activities has elevated from 2,439,384 tons in 2011 to 2,659,785 tons in 2012. As far as number of ship is concerned, 877 ships docked in 2011, 941 docked in 2012. Some 23,941 containers passed in 2011 and 25,574 containers in 2012. Income made from port activities was 31 million USD in 2011 and 35 million USD in 2012. These are some of the crucial economic indicators.
The APS is not the only port that we have goods going out and coming in. We also have other ports activities – the seaport at Keo Phos, the river port at Phnom Penh, the border passes at Poi Pet, Bavet, etc. I am so disappointed that some politicians mistook my comments and made his interpretation. It is like what I said in Prey Veng in relation to the fact that pagodas serve partly in the policy that supports elder people and children. They mistook it to overall policy. Elder people need to go to pagodas to exercise their religious rites and some would even live there. I wish they listened to me carefully before they made comments. I made it clear that pagodas serve partly the policy for elder people. I did not say it serves alone and entirely.
Not all elder people go to pagoda. Some live with their families. Their children look after them. Why did they make it a topic? Improper remark would result in value loss. Take for instance, when I am talking about goods passing by this port, I did not infer to economic activities in the whole country. It is only one of the country’s economic indicators. When the size of export and import through this port gets bigger, it indicates overall economic progress of the country too.
We are now applying the “outward looking” policy. What does that mean? It means we must transform Cambodia into a country that promotes local products and export. The Royal Government has made continuous efforts to look for external markets for our products – agriculturally and industrially. We made a push in the US, Europe, Canada and ASEAN. It is not yet 2015 (when the ASEAN Economic Community becomes real) but we must make efforts from now. In his farewell remark to me, the Malaysian Ambassador agreed with me that Cambodia exported a big amount of rice to Malaysia. In order to ensure people’s increasing engagement in local production for export, the Royal Government finds external markets and attracts investments into the country. For instance, we want to export not only dry cassava chips but as final product such as cassava flour, for example.
We are doing the same for garment industry. We make efforts to look for markets because without markets we cannot attract more investments, which in turn will create jobs for workers. We have made every possible effort to become one of the members of the World Trade Organization (WTO). We are also doing the same as a partner in the ASEAN framework. Cambodia is one of the ASEAN countries that conduct negotiation on trade with other partners – China, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand – also on this trend of ensuring more markets. In the ASEAN Summit recently in Brunei, we will also negotiate with Hong Kong. Cambodia is anticipating opportunity from the free trade area of ASEAN-China, ASEAN-Korea, ASEAN-Japan, ASEAN-India and ASEAN with other partners.
Cambodia’s 14th Years Member of ASEAN
Yesterday was the fourteenth anniversary of Cambodia’s membership to ASEAN – April 30, 1999. In 2014, we will celebrate the fifteenth anniversary with a wider discussion to review results from becoming an ASEAN member. We skip it this year. We will do it next year, 2014. I would depend on HE Cham Prasidh and Sun Chanthol to remind me on that. We will launch a forum for which intellectuals from all corners of life, the youth also included, to join us making evaluation as to what do we achieve from becoming an ASEAN member?
It is in this note that we must monitor the overall economic development. Record of goods charged and discharged in APS is a very important indicator, which helps us monitor the overall economic activity. In 2009, the amount of goods passing by APS dropped because it was the time of financial crisis and economic downturn. We now noted that the amount of goods passing through has picked up again. This should indicate the up curve of export of Cambodia. We should note our import has increased as well. The garment exports brought about over 4,000 million USD or 5,000 million USD to include other sectors. We should note also that border trade with Thailand is about 3000 million USD in size and that with Vietnam is the same.
As far as trade with China is concerned, it has reached beyond what former Premier, HE Wen Jiabao, and I pinpointed. We agreed to expand our trade to reach 2,500 million USD by 2015, but we already did so in 2012. Having seen that, former President of the People’s Republic of China, HE Hu Jintao, and I have earmarked the trade achievement to reach 5,000 million USD. As you can see, this small country has quite an immense trade volume. We have managed to achieve all this not by chance or by creating obstacles for investors. We have prepared hard and soft infrastructure that attracts investors.
Attracting More Investments
When we talk about hard infrastructure, we mean for example APS, roads, bridges, airports, electricity, clean water, etc. to cater to the need of investors. The soft infrastructure refers to legal, regulation and human resources. We have done both. They have guaranteed more investment confidence. The more investments a country can secure the more progress the country makes. This applies not only in the case of a poor country as Cambodia but in developed country like the US, France or other countries in Europe. They all need foreign direct investment (FDI). The US needs FDI from Japan and other countries. Every country in the world rich or poor needs investors.
We are not applying policy that scares investors away but one that create their confidence and attract their investments in local production for both the local needs for consumption and service and for export, while creating more jobs and income for the people. Take for example we could have created tremendous added value from cassava if we could find more investments to process it into animal feed, alcohol, ethanol, etc. Farmers grow cassava and factory is their markets. People can grow cassava but also use their surplus labor to work in the factory. They will make money from both the cassava they grow but also earn monthly stipend from working in the factory.
The same is true for rice mill. We will continue to lose so much from rice export – in rice bran, broken rice pieces and husks. If we could find investors to set up rice mills to get our rice to the export standard, we would make more profit from the lost parts, which we can use to raise animals too. Therefore, our policy is to improve investment environment to attract investment to Cambodia. As you can see now we have received gradually growing investments from Japan. Yesterday, Japan offered Cambodia 90 million USD for the construction of the national road 5. I am so grateful. I thank Japan firstly for the segment of road that Japan has chosen to build, after Japan offered helps in building the national road 1 and the bridge of Neak Loeung. They will serve as connectors in local road infrastructure but also a connector to Cambodia’s southern corridor important for countries in the framework of the greater Mekong sub-region or ASEAN.
Secondly, I thank the Japanese Ambassador straightforwardly for signing this agreement to offer Japan’s assistance right before the elections. In 2003, when Cambodia was stuck in political stalemate after the elections, some countries exercised their wait-and-see position to after the establishment of the new Royal Government. As of present, none applies the wait-and-see position anymore, maybe, and I think, because they understand the gravity of the situation.
The Three Poles of Economic Development
I have spoken a lot already. I still think it is important to talk about the fact that we have considered the province of Preah Sihanouk as head of the dragon. We have likened Cambodia connecting dots of economic poles in a form of a dragon. We have now put the dragon altogether. Its tail is lying at the border with Laos. We have designed our economic development based on three potential poles – Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk city and Siem Reap. We are making our best to turn the northeastern part of the country into the fourth pole. I foresee that in years ahead there will be a huge industrial zone out there through investment and provision of land titles for the people.
We should see that the progress made in Preah Sihanouk city. I remember that while there was this fifth congress of the Cambodian People’s Party in 1985, I visited a number of provinces. I went to Koh Kong. On the way back, we stopped by Kompong Som – that was what we called the province of Preah Sihanouk then. I posed a question to then governor Mr. Horl about the economic directives of the province. The congress set four products as target of the economic achievement – rice, rubber, fishery and log. Mr Horl also set rice as goal for the province. I said to him why you also choose rice, when you do not have land for rice. You should promote seas fishing. However, the four economic targets set in 1980s are no long relevant to the present.
While fishing continues to be daily life activity for the people, industry and service have become major target objectives. Take the APS for instance, last year it received some 870,000 tourists last year. While observing the seasonal greeting of this year, 92,000 tourists have come to Preah Sihanouk province and city. People should be careful with the way they set up prices for their products or tourists would change their destination to Bokor resort in Kompot, to Kep, Koh Kong, Siem Reap, etc. More efforts must be made to guarantee good service and safety for tourists and people who come through.
We have here three special economic zones – one is adjacent to the APS, one at Stoeng Hao and one at Bat Trang. I am sure factories and enterprises in these special economic zones need to settle issues of housing for workers. Workers do not have to walk in the street to demand for housing anymore because factories owners and enterprise owners know how to address their demands in order to secure workers’ fidelity to their management./.