Cambodia has experienced strong economic growth, with average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth near seven percent over the last decade, driven by growing exports (particularly in garment and footwear products) and domestic consumption. Tourism is another large contributor to growth, with tourist arrivals reaching 6 million in 2018. Cambodia’s GNI per capita stood at USD 1,230 in 2017, while the average annual inflation rate was estimated at 3.2 percent.
Investing in Cambodia can be a relatively straightforward process. Foreign direct investment (FDI) incentives available to investors include 100 percent foreign ownership of companies, corporate tax holidays of up to eight years, a 20 percent corporate tax rate after the incentive period ends, duty-free import of capital goods, and no restrictions on capital repatriation.
Despite these incentives, Cambodia has not historically attracted significant U.S. investment. Apart from the country’s relatively small market size, there are other factors dissuading U.S. investors: corruption, a limited supply of skilled labor, inadequate infrastructure (including high energy costs), and a lack of transparency in some government approval processes. Failure to consult the business community on new economic policies and regulations has also created difficulties for domestic and foreign investors alike. Notwithstanding these challenges, a number of American companies have maintained investments in the country, and in December 2016, Coca-Cola officially opened a USD 100 million bottling plant in Phnom Penh.
The story of FDI in Cambodia cannot be told without mentioning China, which has increased its investments in Cambodia sharply in the past five years. The rise in FDI highlights China’s desire for influence in Cambodia, and Southeast Asia more broadly. Moreover, the rise in investment from China indicates that Chinese businesses, many that are state-owned enterprises, may not assess the challenges in Cambodia’s business environment in the same manner as U.S. businesses. While figures vary, the World Bank estimates that Chinese FDI accounted for 60 percent of total FDI-funded projects in Cambodia in 2017, and that share rose to 90 percent in the first six months of 2018.
Physical infrastructure projects, including commercial and residential real estate developments, continue to attract the bulk of FDI. However, there has been a recent increase in investment in manufacturing industries, including garments and agro-processing.
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2018||161 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||138 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2018||98 of 126||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2017||$151.0||http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2017||$1,230||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
As mentioned above, Cambodia has an open and liberal foreign investment regime and actively courts FDI. The primary law governing investment is the 1994 Law on Investment. The government permits 100 percent foreign ownership of companies in most sectors. In a few sectors, such as cigarette manufacturing, movie production, rice milling, gemstone mining and processing, publishing and printing, radio and television, wood and stone carving production, and silk weaving, foreign investment is subject to local equity participation or prior authorization from authorities. There is little or no official discrimination against foreign investors either at the time of initial investment or after investment. Some foreign businesses, however, have reported that they are at disadvantaged vis-a-vis Cambodian or other foreign rivals that engage in acts of corruption or tax evasion or take advantage of Cambodia’s poor regulatory enforcement.
The Council for the Development of Cambodia’s (CDC) is the lead investment promotion agency in Cambodia and is the principal government agency responsible for providing incentives to stimulate investment. Investors are required to submit an investment proposal to either the CDC or the Provincial-Municipal Investment Sub-committee to obtain a Qualified Investment Project (QIP) status depending on capital level and location of the investment question. This agency also facilitates public-private consultation mechanism that is considered to improve investment climate in Cambodia. The forum acts as a platform for the private sector to raise concerns for the government to solve. More information about investment and investment incentives in Cambodia may be found on the website at: .
To facilitate foreign investment, Cambodia has created special economic zones (SEZs). These zones provide companies with ready access to land, infrastructure, and services to facilitate the set-up and operation of businesses. Services provided include utilities, tax services, customs facilitation, and other administrative services designed to support import-export processes. Projects within the SEZs are also offered with incentives such as tax holidays; zero rate value-added tax; and import duty exemption for raw materials, machinery and equipment. The primary authority responsible for SEZs is the Cambodia Special Economic Zone Board (CSEZB). The largest of these SEZs is located in Sihanoukville and hosts primarily Chinese companies.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
There are few limitations on foreign control and ownership in Cambodia. Foreign investors may own 100 percent of their investment projects except in the sectors mentioned above. According to Cambodia’s 2003 Amended Law on Investment and related sub-decrees, there are no limitations based on shareholder nationality or discrimination against foreign investors, except in relation to investments in real property or state-owned enterprises. Both the Law on Investment and the Amended Law on Investment state that the majority of interest in land, however, must be held by one or more Cambodian citizens. Pursuant to the Law on Public Enterprise, the Cambodian government must directly or indirectly hold more than 51 percent of the capital or the right to vote in state-owned enterprises. In addition, the Cambodian Bar has periodically taken actions to restrict or impede the work of foreign lawyers or foreign law firms.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
In compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements, Cambodia conducted its first review of trade policies and practices in November 2011. The second review was conducted on November 21-23, 2017. Cambodia’s full trade policy review report can be found on the WTO website: . Cambodia also conducted an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development investment policy review in 2017.
In response to the WTO trade policy review recommendations, Cambodia completed the following reforms:
- Elimination of the Certificate of Origin requirement for exports to countries where a certificate is not required;
- Implementation of online business registration;
- Adoption of a competitive hiring process for Ministry of Commerce staff;
- Implementation of risk evaluation measures for the Cambodia Import-Export Inspection and Fraud Repression Directorate General (CamControl) and creation of a CamControl risk management unit;
- Enactment of the Law on Public Procurement;
- Enactment of three judicial system laws: the Law on Court Structures, the Law on the Duties and Discipline of Judges and Prosecutors, and the Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Supreme Council of Magistracy;
- Creation of the Commercial Court as a specialized Court of First Instance;
- The creation of a credit bureau;
- Establishment of a Telecom Regulator of Cambodia (TRC); in 2012, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication transferred its regulatory role to the TRC;
- Enactment of the Law on Telecommunications in December 2015; and
- Enactment of the Law on Animal Health and Production in February 2016.
Areas of ongoing or planned reforms include a law on Special Economic Zones, amending the Standards Law, and enacting laws on competition, cyber security, food safety, and e-commerce.
All businesses are required to register with the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) and the General Department of Taxation (GDT). In January 2016, the Ministry of Commerce launched an online business registration portal that allows all existing and new businesses to register their companies at . The link also provides sources of information for various types of business registration documents. Depending on the types of business activities, new businesses are also required to register with other relevant ministries. In addition to registering with the MoC and the GDT, for example, travel agencies must register with the Ministry of Tourism, and private universities must register with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. The GDT also established their E-tax registration that can be found at . The World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business Report ranks Cambodia 138 of 190 countries globally for the ease of starting a business. The report notes that it includes nine separate procedures and can take up to three months to complete all business, tax, and employment registration processes.
Cambodia’s 1994 Law on Investment created an investment licensing system to regulate the approval process for foreign direct investment and provide incentives to potential investors. The website of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) provides a list of laws, rules, procedures and regulations, which could be useful for foreign investors. CDC’s website is found here: .
There are no restrictions on domestic citizens investing abroad. A number of local companies have already invested in neighboring countries, particularly Laos and Myanmar, in various sectors including banking, IT services, legal and consulting services, and the entertainment industry.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
BITs or FTAs
Cambodia has signed bilateral investment treaties (BITs) with 27 countries: Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia (later terminated), Japan, Kuwait, Laos, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam. Cambodia does not have a BIT with the United States.
As a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Cambodia has signed regional investment agreements including the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement, the ASEAN-Hong Kong Investment Agreement, the ASEAN-India Investment Agreement, the ASEAN-China Investment Agreement, and the ASEAN-Korea Investment Agreement.
Cambodia is also a party to several regional free trade agreements that include provisions to liberalize trade as well as investment. They include the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, the ASEAN-Japan EPA, and ASEAN Framework Agreements with Korea, India, China, and the EU, that include investment provisions. ASEAN is also a party to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) that is currently under negotiation.
In July 2006, Cambodia signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the United States to promote greater trade and investment in both countries and provide a forum to address bilateral trade and investment issues. In January 2019, the fifth TIFA meeting took place in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Bilateral Taxation Treaties
Cambodia does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States, but has entered into six double taxation agreements with Brunei, China, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Details of those agreements are available on Cambodia’s General Department of Taxation (GDT) website: .
In the past, Cambodia’s GDT has lacked the capacity to collect taxes on a large scale. As a result, many companies evaded paying salary taxes, value-added taxes, and real estate taxes, despite being required to do so under Cambodian laws. The GDT has taken steps, however, to increase tax revenue both by building capacity within the organization and through better implementation of existing tax laws.
Application of Cambodia’s tax laws, while improving, remains inconsistent. In some cases, foreign investors face greater scrutiny to pay taxes than their domestic counterparts. In others, the GDT has been criticized for employing audits and assessing large tax obligations for political purposes.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Numerous issues related to the general lack of transparency in the regulatory regime arise from the lack of legislation and limited capacity of key institutions, further exacerbated by weakness of the court system. Investors often complain that the decisions of Cambodian regulatory agencies are inconsistent, arbitrary, or motivated by corruption. For example, in May 2016 in what was perceived as a populist move, the government set caps on retail fuel prices, with little consultation with petroleum companies. Following this development, in April 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia introduced the interest rate cap on loans provided by the microfinance industry with no consultation with the relevant stakeholders at all. Some investors have expressed concern over draft cyber legislation that has not been subject to stakeholder consultations.
Cambodian ministries and regulatory agencies are not legally obligated to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment. Draft regulations are only selectively available for public consultation with relevant non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private sector or other parties before their enactment. Approved or passed laws are available on websites of some line Ministries but are not always up to date. The Council of Jurists, the government body reviewing law and regulation, publishes a list of updated laws and regulations on its website at .
Under Prakas (sub-decree) 643 of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, enterprises must submit their annual financial statements to be audited by an independent auditor registered with the Kampuchea Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Auditors (KICPAA) provided those enterprises meet two of the following three criteria: (1) annual turnover above KHR 3 billion (approximately USD 750,000); (2) total assets above KHR 2 billion (approximately USD 500,000); and (3) more than 100 employees. QIPs registered with the CDC are also obligated to submit their annual financial statement to be audited by an independent auditor registered with the KICPAA.
International Regulatory Considerations
As a member of the ASEAN since 1999, Cambodia is required to comply with certain rules and regulations with regard to free trade agreements with the 10 ASEAN member states. These include tariff-free importation of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment, harmonizing custom coding, harmonizing the medical device market, as well as compliance with tax regulations on multi-activity businesses, among others.
As a member of the WTO, Cambodia has been drafting new laws and amending existing laws and regulations to comply with WTO rules. Relevant laws and regulations are notified to the WTO legal committee after their adoption. A list of Cambodian legal updates in compliance with the WTO is described in the above section regarding Investment Policy Reviews.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The Cambodian legal system is primarily based on French civil law. Under the 1993 Constitution, the King is the head of state and the elected Prime Minister is the head of government. Legislative power is vested in a bicameral parliament, while the judiciary makes up the third branch of government. Contractual enforcement is governed by Decree Number 38 D Referring to Contract and Other Liabilities. More information on this decree can be found at .
Although the Cambodian Constitution calls for an independent judiciary, most investors are generally reluctant to use the Cambodian judicial system because the courts are perceived as unreliable and susceptible to external political influence or bribery. Both local and foreign businesses report problems with inconsistent judicial rulings, corruption, and difficulty enforcing judgments. For these reasons, most commercial disputes are currently resolved through negotiations facilitated by the Ministry of Commerce, the Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, or other institutions.
Cambodia adopted a Commercial Arbitration Law in 2006. In 2010, the government provided for the establishment of the National Commercial Arbitration Center (NCAC), the country’s first alternative dispute resolution mechanism, to enable companies to resolve commercial disputes more quickly and inexpensively than through the court system. The NCAC was officially launched in March 2013, but has limited capacity.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Cambodia’s 1994 Law on Investment created an investment licensing system to regulate the approval process for foreign direct investment and provide incentives to potential investors. In March 2003, the government simplified licensing and increased transparency and predictability by enacting the Law on the Amendment to the Law on Investment (Amended Law on Investment). Sub-decree No. 111 on the Implementation of the Law on the Amendment to the Law on Investment, issued in September 2005, lays out detailed procedures for registering a QIP, which is entitled to certain taxation incentives, with the CDC and provincial/municipal investment subcommittees.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The government has announced plans to draft a competition law but the law has yet to be enacted. A competition department was established under the Directorate General of CamControl in 2016. The department aims to work on drafting laws and regulations on competition, study, and coordinate with various relevant agencies on local and international competition. The draft law is now reportedly being considered in a technical working group at the Council of Ministers and Council of Jurists.
Expropriation and Compensation
Land rights are a contentious issue in Cambodia, complicated by the fact that most property holders do not have legal documentation of their ownership because of official policies and social upheaval during Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s. Numerous cases have been reported of influential individuals or groups acquiring land titles or concessions through political and/or financial connections and then using force to displace communities to make way for commercial enterprises.
In late 2009, the National Assembly approved the Law on Expropriation, which sets broad guidelines on land-taking procedures for public interest purposes. It defines public interest activities to include construction, rehabilitation, preservation, or expansion of infrastructure projects, and development of buildings for national defense and civil security. These provisions include construction of border crossing posts, facilities for research and exploitation of natural resources, and oil pipeline and gas networks. Property can also be expropriated for natural disasters and emergencies, as determined by the government. Legal procedures regarding compensation and appeals are expected to be established in a forthcoming sub-decree, which is under internal discussion within the technical team of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
The government has shown willingness to use tax issues for political purposes. For instance, in 2017, a U.S.-owned independent newspaper had its bank account frozen purportedly for failure to pay taxes. It is believed that, while the company may have had some tax liability, the action taken by Cambodia’s General Department of Taxation, notably an inflated tax assessment, was politically motivated and intended to halt operations. These actions took place at the same time the government took steps to reduce the role of press and independent media in the country as part of a wider anti-democratic crackdown.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Cambodia has been a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention – also known as the Washington Convention) since 2005. Cambodia is also a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1958 (the New York Convention) since 1960.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
International arbitration is available for Cambodian commercial disputes. In March 2014, the Supreme Court of Cambodia upheld the decision of the Cambodian Court of Appeal, which had ruled in favor of the recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award issued by the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board of Seoul, South Korea. Cambodia became a member of the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes in January 2005.
In 2009, the International Center approved a U.S. investor’s request for arbitration in a case against the Cambodian government, and in 2013, the tribunal rendered an award in favor of Cambodia.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Commercial disputes can also be resolved through the National Commercial Arbitration Center (NCAC), Cambodia’s first alternative dispute resolution mechanism, which was officially launched in March 2013. Arbitral awards issued by foreign arbitrations are admissible in the Cambodian court system. An example can be drawn from its recognition and enforcement of arbitral award issued by the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board in 2014.
Cambodia’s 2007 Law on Insolvency was intended to provide collective, orderly, and fair satisfaction of creditor claims from debtor properties and, where appropriate, the rehabilitation of the debtor’s business. The Law on Insolvency applies to the assets of all business people and legal entities in Cambodia. The World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business Report ranks Cambodia 79 out of 190 in terms of the “ease of resolving insolvency.”
In 2012, Credit Bureau Cambodia (CBC) was established in an effort to create a more transparent credit market in the country. CBC’s main role is to provide credit scores to banks and financial institutions and to improve access to credit information.
4. Industrial Policies
All investments must be registered with the Ministry of Commerce. The Cambodian Law on Investment and the Amended Law on Investment offers varying types of investment incentives for projects that meet specified criteria. Investors seeking an incentive must submit an application to the CDC. Investors who wish to apply are required to pay an application fee of KHR 7 million (approximately USD 1,750), which covers securing necessary approvals, authorizations, licenses, or registrations from all relevant ministries and entities, including stamp duties. Under a 2008 sub-decree, the CDC is required to seek approval from the Council of Ministers for investment proposals that involve capital of USD 50 million or more, politically sensitive issues, the exploration and exploitation of mineral or natural resources, or infrastructure concessions. The CDC is also required to seek approval from the Council of Ministers for investment proposals that will have a negative impact on the environment or the government’s long-term strategy.
Since 2011, tax incentives have been provided for rice farming, paddy rice purchase, and the export of milled rice. Meanwhile QIPs are entitled to receive different incentives such as corporate tax holiday; special depreciation allowance; and import taxes exemption on production equipment, construction materials, and production inputs used to produce exports. Investment projects located in designated special promotion zones or export-processing zones are also entitled to the same incentives. Industry-specific investment incentives, such as a three-year profit tax exemption, may be available in the agriculture and agro-industry sectors. More information about the criteria and investment areas eligible for incentives can be found at the following link: .
Investment activities excluded from incentives are detailed in the September 2005 Sub-Decree on the Implementation of the Amendment to the Law on Investment. These include the following sectors: retail, wholesale, and duty-free stores; entertainment establishments (including restaurants, bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, and casinos); tourism service providers; currency and financial services; press and media-related activities; professional services; and production and processing of tobacco and wood products. Incentives also may not be applied to investments in the production of certain products if the investment is less than USD 500,000. This includes food and beverages; textiles, garments, and footwear; and plastic, rubber, and paper products. Investors are not required to place a deposit guaranteeing their investment except in cases involving a concession contract or real estate development project.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
To facilitate the country’s development, the Cambodian government has shown great interest in increasing exports via geographically defined special economic zones (SEZs). In December 2005, the government adopted the Sub-Decree on Special Economic Zones to speed up the creation of the zones by detailing the procedures, conditions, and incentives for investors. The Government is also drafting the law on Special Economic Zones, which is now undergoing technical review within the CDC. There are currently 13 special SEZs, which are located in Phnom Penh, Koh Kong, Kandal, Kampot, Sihanoukville, and near the borders of Thailand and Vietnam. The main investment sectors in these zones include garments, shoes, bicycles, food processing, auto parts, motorcycle assembly, and electrical equipment manufacturing. Twelve more SEZs are either planned or now under construction.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The Law on Investment permits investors to hire foreign nationals for employment as managers, technicians, or skilled workers if the qualifications and/or expertise are not available in Cambodia. According to the Cambodian Labor Law, the number of foreign employees should not exceed ten percent of the total number of Cambodian employees. In practice, companies can request an increase in this ratio from the Ministry of Labor.
Under Cambodian law, most foreign investments and foreign investors are subject to the following taxes: corporate profits tax (20 percent), tax on individual salaries (0 to 20 percent), withholding taxes (4 to 15 percent), value-added taxes (0 to ten percent), and import duties (0 to 35 percent).
Cambodia does not have any forced localization policy that obligates foreign investors to use domestic contents in goods or technology. Cambodia also does not currently require foreign Information Technology providers to turn over source code. The General Department of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications oversees ICT-related policy in Cambodia. As mentioned above, as of early 2019, both cyber and e-commerce legislation were still in draft form. These laws, when finalized, could change data localization requirements.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
In a move designed to address the need for capital markets in Cambodia, the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX) was founded in 2011 and started trading in 2012. Though the CSX is one of the world’s smallest securities markets, it has taken steps to increase the number of listed companies, including attracting SMEs. It currently has five listed companies, including the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, and Taiwanese garment manufacturer Grand Twins International.
In September 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) adopted a Prakas on Conditions for Banking and Financial Institutions to be listed on the Cambodia Securities Exchange. The Prakas sets additional requirements for banks and financial institutions that intend to issue securities to the public. This includes prior approval from the NBC and minimum equity of KHR 60 billion (approximately USD 15 million).
Cambodia’s bond market is at the beginning stages of development. The regulatory framework for corporate bonds was bolstered in 2017 through the publication of the Prakas on Public Offering of Debt Securities, the Prakas on Accreditation of Bondholders Representative, and the Prakas on Accreditation of Credit Rating Agency. The country’s first corporate bond was issued in 2018, and a second is expected in 2019. There is currently no sovereign bond market, but the government has stated its intention of making government securities available to investors by 2022.
Money and Banking System
The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) regulates the operations of banking systems in Cambodia. Foreign banks and branches are freely allowed to register and operate in the country. There are 39 commercial banks, 15 specialized banks (set up to finance specific turn-key projects such as real estate development), 54 licensed microfinance institutions, and seven licensed microfinance deposit taking institutions in Cambodia. NBC has also granted licenses to 11 financial leasing companies and one credit bureau company to improve transparency and credit risk management and encourage more lending to small-and medium-sized enterprise customers.
In November 2018, Moody’s Investor Services affirmed Cambodia’s issuer rating at B2 with a stable outlook. The overall B2 rating was based on Cambodia’s robust GDP growth prospects, macroeconomic stability, and efforts to strengthen government revenue. However, Moody’s cited several potential threats such as a weak institutional framework, low incomes, and the high dollarization of loans and deposits that make Cambodia vulnerable to negative shocks.
Cambodia’s banking sector continues to experience strong growth. The banking sector’s assets, including those of micro-finance institutions (MFIs), rose 20.2 percent year-over-year in 2017 to 135.1 trillion riel (USD 33.8 billion), while capital grew 23.6 percent to 25.7 trillion riel (USD 6.4 billion). Loans and deposits grew 18.3 percent and 24.5 percent respectively, which resulted in a decrease of the loan-to-deposit ration from 114 percent to 110 percent. The ratio of non-performing loans remained steady at 2.4 percent in 2017.
The government does not use the regulation of capital markets to restrict foreign investment. Banks have been free to set their own interest rates since 1995, and increased competition between local institutions has led to a gradual lowering of interest rates from year to year. However, in April 2017, at the direction of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the NBC capped interest rates on loans offered by MFIs at 18 percent per annum. The move was designed to protect borrowers, many of whom are poor and uneducated, from excessive interest rates.
In March 2016, the NBC doubled the minimum capital reserve requirement for banks to USD 75 million for commercial banks and USD 15 million for specialized banks. Based on the new regulations, deposit-taking microfinance institutions now have a USD 30 million reserve requirement, while traditional microfinance institutions have a USD 1.5 million reserve requirement.
The Cambodian banking system is gradually shifting from a cash-based economy to an electronic payment culture as more financial institutions launch internet or mobile banking and expand their ATM networks. Evidence of the maturation of the financial sector includes the greater number of financial products and services offered, as well as the numbers of people of use them. In 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia measured financial inclusion at 55 percent. In addition, it said the number of depositors increased by 15 percent to 3.5 million, 42 percent of which are female, and the number of borrowers rose 1 percent to 755,000.
In February 2019, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental organization whose purpose is to develop policies to combat money laundering, cited Cambodia for being “deficient” with regard to its anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) controls and policies. The government has committed to working with FATF to address these deficiencies through a jointly-developed action plan. Should Cambodia not address the deficiencies, it could risk landing on the FATF “black list,” something that could negatively impact the banking sector and the country’s ability to access the international capital markets.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Though Cambodia has its own currency, the riel (denoted as KHR), U.S. dollars are widely in circulation in Cambodia and remain the primary currency for most large transactions. There are no restrictions on the conversion of capital for investors.
Cambodia’s 1997 Law on Foreign Exchange states that there shall be no restrictions on foreign exchange operations through authorized banks. Authorized banks are required, however, to report the amount of any transfer equaling or exceeding USD 100,000 to the NBC on a regular basis.
Loans and borrowings, including trade credits, are freely contracted between residents and nonresidents, provided that loan disbursements and repayments are made through an authorized intermediary. There are no restrictions on the establishment of foreign currency bank accounts in Cambodia for residents.
The exchange rate between the riel and U.S. dollar is governed by a managed float and has been stable at around one USD to KHR 4,000. Daily fluctuations of the exchange rate are low, typically under three percent. The Embassy is not aware of any cases in which investors have encountered obstacles in converting local currency to foreign currency or in sending capital out of the country. In the past several years, the Cambodian government has taken steps to increase general usage of the riel but, as noted above, the country’s economy remains largely dollarized.
Article 11 of the Law on the Amendment to the Law on Investment of 2003 states that QIPs can freely remit abroad foreign currencies purchased through authorized banks for the discharge of financial obligations incurred in connection with investments. These financial obligations include:
- Payment for imports and repayment of principal and interest on international loans;
- Payment of royalties and management fees;
- Remittance of profits; and
- Repatriation of invested capital in case of dissolution.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Cambodia does not have a Sovereign Wealth Fund.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The government does not have policies to promote responsible business conduct (RBC) or corporate social responsibility (CSR). However, there is strong awareness of RBC among larger and multinational companies in the country. U.S. companies, for example, have implemented a wide range of CSR activities to promote skills training, the environment, general health and well-being, and financial education. These programs have been warmly received by both the general public and the government.
A number of economic land concessions in Cambodia have led to high profile land rights cases. The Cambodian government has recognized the problem, but in general, has not effectively and fairly resolved land rights claims. The Cambodian government does not have a national contact point for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) multinational enterprises guidelines and does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
Corruption remains a significant issue in Cambodia for investors. An increase in foreign investment from investors willing to engage in corrupt practices, combined with sometimes opaque official and unofficial investment processes, has served to facilitate an overall rise in corruption, which is reported to already be at high levels. In its Global Competitiveness Report 2018, the World Economic Forum ranked Cambodia 134th out of 140 countries for incidence of corruption. Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception index ranked Cambodia 161 of 180 countries globally, the lowest ranking of all ten ASEAN member states.
Those engaged in business have identified corruption, particularly within the judiciary, customs services, and tax authorities, as one of the greatest deterrents to investment in Cambodia. Foreign investors from countries that overlook or encourage bribery have significant advantages over foreign investors from countries that criminalize such activity.
Cambodia adopted an Anti-Corruption Law in 2010 to combat corruption by criminalizing bribery, abuse of office, extortion, facilitation payments, and accepting bribes in the form of donations or promises. Under the law, all civil servants must also declare their financial assets to the government every two years. Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), established the same year, has investigative powers and a mandate to provide education and training to government institutions and the public on anti-corruption compliance. Since its formation, the ACU has launched a few high-profile prosecutions against public officials, including members of the police and judiciary. The ACU has also tackled the issue of ghost workers in the government, in which non-existent employees collect salaries.
The ACU, in collaboration with the private sector, has also established guidelines encouraging companies to create internal codes of conduct prohibiting bribery and corrupt practices. Companies can sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the ACU pledging to operate corruption-free and to cooperate on anti-corruption efforts. Since the program started in 2015, more than 80 private companies have signed a MOU with the ACU. In 2018, the ACU completed a first draft of a code of conduct for public officials, which has not yet been finalized.
Despite the passage of the Anti-Corruption Law and the creation of the ACU, enforcement remains weak. Local and foreign businesses report that they must often make informal payments to expedite business transactions. Since 2013, Cambodia has published the official fees for public services, but the practice of paying additional fees remains common. Despite a pay raise in 2016, the minimum salary for administrative civil servants remain below the level required to maintain a suitable quality of life in Cambodia, so public employees remain susceptible to bribes. Furthermore, the process for awarding government contracts is not transparent and is susceptible to corruption.
UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery
Cambodia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in 2007 and endorsed the Action Plan of the Asian Development Bank / OECD Anti-Corruption Initiative for Asia and the Pacific in 2003. Cambodia is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Resources to Report Corruption
President, Anti-Corruption Unit
No. 54, Preah Norodom Blvd, Sangkat Phsar Thmey 3, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
Executive Director, Transparency International Cambodia
#13 Street 554, Phnom Penh
10. Political and Security Environment
Foreign companies have been the targets of violent protests in the past, such as the 2003 anti-Thai riots against the Embassy of Thailand and Thai-owned commercial establishments. More recently, there were reports that Vietnamese-owned establishments were looted during a January 2014 labor protest. Authorities have also used force, including truncheons, electric cattle prods, fire hoses, and even gunfire, to disperse protestors. Incidents of violence directed at businesses, however, are rare. The Embassy is unaware of any incidents of political violence directed at U.S. or other non-regional interests.
Nevertheless, political tensions remain. After relatively competitive communal elections in June 2017, where Cambodia’s opposition party won nearly 50 percent of available seats, the government took steps to strengthen its grip on power and eliminated meaningful political activity. In September 2017, the head of the country’s leading opposition party was arrested and charged with treason, and in November 2017, the same opposition party was banned. In July 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen won a landslide victory, and his ruling party swept all 125 parliamentary seats, in a national election that was criticized by the United States as being neither free nor fair. The government has also taken steps to limit free speech and stifle independent media, including forcing independent news outlets and radio stations to cease operations. While there are few overt signs the country is growing less secure today, the possibility for insecurity exists going forward, particularly if a large percentage of the population remains disenfranchised.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Cambodia’s economy is primarily focused on four sectors: agriculture, garment production, tourism, and construction. The agricultural sector employees some 60 to 65 percent of the labor force. There are over one million people working in the garment and footwear sector, the majority of whom are women; around 620,000 are employed in the tourism sector; and a further 200,000 people in construction according to Government of Cambodia statistics. Around 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians work abroad – the official statistic is 1.2 million, but most experts estimate the figure far higher. Around 55 percent of the population is under the age of 25. The United Nations has estimated that around 300,000 new job seekers enter the labor market each year.
Given the severe disruption to the Cambodian education system and loss of skilled Cambodians during the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge period, workers with higher education or specialized skills are few and in high demand. The Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey conducted in 2014 (the latest report available) found that about 36 percent of the labor force had completed a primary education. Only seven percent of the labor force had completed secondary education. The 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF) identified an inadequately educated workforce as one of the most serious problems to doing business in Cambodia. Cambodia ranked 48 out of 137 on labor market efficiency of the WEF 2017-2018. Many middle management positions in the formal garment sector are filled by foreign nationals.
Cambodia’s 2016 Trade Union Law (TUL) erects barriers to the right of association and the rights to organize and bargain freely. The ILO has stated publicly that the law could hinder Cambodia’s obligations to international labor conventions 87 and 98, and has suggested substantial revisions to the law both during the 2017 meeting of the Committee on Application of Standards, and through a Direct Mission sent by the ILO to investigate the law’s implementation. The government has not made any public commitment to amend the law.
Unresolved labor disputes are mediated first on the shop-room floor, after which they are brought to the MOLVT for conciliation. If conciliation fails, then the cases may be brought to the Arbitration Council (AC), an independent state body that interprets labor regulations in collective disputes, such as when multiple employees are dismissed. Since the TUL went into force, AC cases have decreased from over 30 per month to fewer than five, although that number began to increase again in 2019 due to regulatory changes.
The labor code prohibits forced or compulsory labor; establishes 15 as the minimum allowable age for paid work; and sets 18 as the minimum age for anyone engaged in work that is hazardous, unhealthy, or unsafe. The statute also guarantees an eight-hour workday and 48-hour workweek and provides for time-and-a-half pay for overtime or work on an employee’s day off. Enforcement of all labor laws, however, is lax. The labor inspectorate focuses primarily on export-oriented factories in the garment and footwear sector.
In 2018, Cambodia amended its Labor Law to eliminate severance packages in favor of a “seniority” bonus paid to workers every six months. The amendment was intended to solve the problem of foreign factory owners absconding, leaving behind unpaid salaries and severances. The law and its implementing regulation did not, however, provide clear guidance on how to compensate workers for seniority they had already accrued prior to amendment’s passage. This remains a point of dispute between workers and company owners, and the precise legal requirements for the timing of seniority payments on back wages remains unclear.
Cambodia maintains a minimum wage for workers in the garment and footwear sector. The minimum wage for garment workers was set at USD 182 per month in 2019 by the Labor Advisory Committee (LAC), a tripartite group comprised of representatives from the government, labor, and manufacturers. Since 2010, the wage rate for workers in the sector has increased from USD 61 to USD 182. In 2018, the government passed a new Minimum Wage Law, which will for the first time allow minimum wages outside of the garment and footwear sector. The law has not yet been put into effect.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
There has been a surge in FDI inflows to Cambodia in recent years. Though FDI goes primarily to infrastructure, including commercial and residential real estate projects, it has also recently favored investments in manufacturing and agro-processing. Cambodia reports its total stock of FDI reached USD 7.1 billion in 2018, up from USD 6.8 billion in 2017.
Investment into Cambodia is dominated by China, and the level of investment from China has surged especially in the last five years. Cambodia reports that its FDI from China reached USD 1.6 billion (year-end 2018), while fixed asset investment from China reached USD 15.3 billion. Taiwan and Hong Kong are also major sources of investment in Cambodia, accounting for USD 614 million and USD 376 million of FDI, respectively, through 2018.
Cambodian investments into other countries are still quite small. Through 2017, the IMF reports a total of USD 367 million of Cambodian investments, with most going to China and Singapore.
NOTE: Discrepancies exists between IMF counterpart country data and the investment figures reported by Cambodia’s official source, the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC). In some cases, counterpart country data reports much larger FDI stocks in Cambodia than reported by CDC. In other cases, the data from the Cambodia government is the only source available. Many of Cambodia’s key FDI partners (notably China, Taiwan and Hong Kong) do not report FDI figures to the IMF.
There are also discrepancies in the reported total stock of U.S. FDI in Cambodia. For FDI through 2017, the U.S. government (BEA) reports USD 151 million, the IMF reports USD 110 million, and Cambodia reports only USD 100 million.
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
|Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data (Through 2017)|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||$6,254||100%||Total Outward||$367||100%|
|Korea, Republic of||$1,479||23.6%||Singapore||$160||43.6%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
Data retrieved from IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey database (mirror data, as reported by counterpart economies) presents a much different picture of FDI into Cambodia as compared to that provided by the Cambodian government. For example, Cambodia reports USD 6.8 billion total FDI through year-end 2017 (USD 7.1 through year-end 2018), while the IMF reports only USD 2.8 billion.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
N/A – IMF CPIS Data for Cambodia is not available.