Sun Chanthol has a close affinity to Thailand. Before moving back to Cambodia in the 1990s, the Harvard graduate worked as an executive at General Electric in the US for 16 years and was also based in Thailand for several years. His children studied at International School Bangkok (ISB) and his daughter was born at Bumrungrad Hospital. Thailand has a place in his heart and he sees Thais and Cambodians as “cousins”.
But the trade volume between the two neighbours raises some questions for Cambodia’s current minister of commerce. Thailand is a larger trading partner to Cambodia than its other two neighbours. But figures show a stark imbalance. In 2013 the country’s exports to Thailand reached US$351 million, up 41%, while imports from Thailand totalled $4.15 billion, up 10%. And despite the proximity and high trade volume, Thai investors ranked only eighth among foreign investors in Cambodia.
“I personally want to see Thai investors ranked in second place, not eighth, as investors in Cambodia,” Mr Chanthol said in an address to Thai businessmen at a trade forum on investment opportunities, held at Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra on August 22. “We have the same culture, the same religion and we understand each other. Why have investors from Thailand not come to invest here?”
Mr Chanthol offers some possible answers. “The burning of the Thai embassy was one issue and another was the [Preah Vihear] issue along the border. We need to put those behind us. Let’s localize these issues and put them in one place. We need to look at the greater context of the relationship between Cambodia and Thailand and bilateral trade.”