Cambodia

Executive Summary

Cambodia has experienced an extended period of strong economic growth, with average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth hovering at seven percent over the last decade, driven by growing exports (particularly in garment and footwear products), increased investment, and domestic consumption. Tourism is another large contributor to growth, with tourist arrivals reaching 6.61 million in 2019. Cambodia’s GDP per capita stood at $1,674 in 2019, while the average annual inflation rate was estimated at 3.2 percent.

The government has made it a priority to attract investment from abroad. 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 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 $100 million bottling plant in Phnom Penh.

In recent years, Chinese FDI has surged and become a significant driver of growth. The rise in FDI highlights China’s desire for influence in Cambodia, and Southeast Asia more broadly, and 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. The World Bank estimates that Chinese FDI accounted for 60 percent of total FDI-funded projects in Cambodia in 2017; that share rose significantly in 2018. In 2019, FDI hit $3.6 billion – a record – with 43 percent reportedly coming from China.

Physical infrastructure projects, including commercial and residential real estate developments, continue to attract the bulk of FDI. However, there has been some increase in investment in manufacturing, including garment and travel goods factories, as well as agro-processing.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 162 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 144 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 98 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in Cambodia ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 USD 165 https://apps.bea.gov/international/
di1usdbal
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 1,390 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

4. Industrial Policies 

Investment Incentives 

Cambodia’s Law on Investment and Amended Law on Investment offers varying types of investment incentives for projects that meet specified criteria. Investors seeking an incentive – for examples, incentives as part of a qualified investment project (QIP) – must submit an application to the CDC. Investors who wish to apply are required to pay an application fee of KHR 7 million (approximately $1,750), which covers securing necessary approvals, authorizations, licenses, or registrations from all relevant ministries and entities, including stamp duties. The CDC is required to seek approval from the Council of Ministers for investment proposals that involve capital of $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.

QIPs are entitled to receive different incentives such as corporate tax holidays; special depreciation allowances; and import tax exemptions 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 three-year profit tax exemptions, 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 .

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). Cambodia is currently drafting a law on Special Economic Zones, which is now undergoing technical review within the CDC. There are currently 23 special SEZs, which are located in Phnom Penh, Koh Kong, Kandal, Kampot, Sihanoukville, and 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.

8. Responsible Business Conduct 

There is a small, but growing awareness of responsible business conduct (RBC) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) among businesses in Cambodia despite the fact that the government does not have explicit policies to promote them. RBC and CSR programs are mostly commonly found at 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.

11. Labor Policies and Practices 

The global COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impact on Cambodia’s labor sector, the full extent of which are not yet known. Cambodia’s garment and manufacturing sector, which is heavily reliant on global supply chains for inputs and on demand from the United States and Europe, is experiencing severe disruptions due to COVID-19. The government estimates that as of May 2020, 180,000 of Cambodia’s approximately 1 million factory workers have been furloughed. In addition, approximately 90,000 of Cambodia’s 1.3 million migrant workers returned from abroad (mostly from Thailand) due to COVID-19 related job losses.

Cambodia’s labor force includes about 10 million people. A small number of Vietnamese and Thai migrant workers are employed in Cambodia, and Chinese-run infrastructure and other businesses are importing an increasing number of Chinese laborers, who typically earn more than their Cambodian counterparts. Given the severe disruption to the Cambodian education system and loss of skilled Cambodians during the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge period, there are few Cambodian workers with higher education or specialized skills. Around 55 percent of the population is under the age of 25, a fact reflected in Cambodia’s young workforce. The United Nations has estimated that around 300,000 new job seekers enter the labor market each year. The agricultural sector employees about 40 percent of the labor force. Some 37 percent of the non-agricultural workforce, or 2.2 million workers, are in the informal economy. The pandemic has caused mass suspensions and layoffs across all non-agricultural sectors.

Unresolved labor disputes are mediated first on the shop-room floor, after which they are brought to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. If conciliation fails, then the cases may be brought to the Arbitration Council, an independent state body that interprets labor regulations in collective disputes, such as when multiple employees are dismissed. Since the 2016 Trade Union Law went into force, Arbitration Council 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.

Cambodia’s 2016 Trade Union Law (TUL) erects barriers to freedom 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. To address those concerns, Cambodia passed an amended TUL in early 2020, but the amended law still does not go far enough to fully address ILO, U.S. government, labor NGO, and union concerns about the law’s curbs on freedom of association. In addition, Cambodia has only implemented and enforced a minimum wage in the export garment and footwear sectors.

In early 2020, the government also began consultations with businesses and unions on amending the Labor Law. Unions generally oppose the proposed amendments, seeing them as too pro-business. One proposed change, for example, would reduce extra pay for night shift work.

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