Remarks by Ambassador William Heidt at the Plenary Session of Business Opportunities in Cambodian Agriculture

Rosewood Hotel, Phnom Penh
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
(as prepared for delivery)

Lok Chumteav Cham Nimul, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Commerce, and other colleagues from the Royal Government of Cambodia; Lok Okhnas, Lok Chumteav Okhnas, and other distinguished leaders from the Cambodian business communities:

Mr. Allen Tan, Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia;

Esteemed members of our American business delegation visiting Cambodia;

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Good morning and thank you all for joining us today.  The last time I did a commercial promotion in this room, I wound up drinking the fluid from a carpet cleaning machine.  I’m hoping to avoid surprises like that today!

I am delighted to see such a big group here this morning to discuss and learn more about business opportunities in Cambodia’s agriculture sector and to make connections that will hopefully develop into productive and lasting business partnerships.

I want to begin by thanking the government for their cooperation in making this business event happen.  We just had an extremely informative breakfast with H.E. Sorasak Pan, the Minister of Commerce, and we are scheduled to meet the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon.

Our job between now and then is to dig into the details of the growth potential of Cambodia’s agriculture sector – which we will do via four separate breakout sessions – and hopefully make a lot of new business connections.  So I want to keep my remarks brief this morning.

This is the first time the Embassy has organized a trade event in the agricultural sector.  So let me start by saying a few words about our delegation.

  • The companies in our delegation have more than a century of experience working with partners in over 130 countries around the world – and offer the very best agricultural technology, equipment, and expertise in areas ranging from biotech and fertilizer to packaging and automation, from agrochemicals and data analytics to veterinary medicine and harvesting equipment.
  • Five companies here today are part of the United States’ Fortune 500. Last year, combined, these five had revenues approaching $760 billion.

We are also thrilled to have more than 65 Cambodian companies join this program today, including the Mong Reththy Group, Amru Rice Group, LCH Investment Group, and Sonatra Farm Company.  These companies are market leaders and represent the very best in Cambodian innovation and entrepreneurship.  They and many other Cambodian companies represented here have helped grow the Cambodian agricultural sector from small beginnings into an important producer and market in the region.

Cambodian agriculture has enormous potential.  From 2004 to 2012, growth in the sector was 5.3%, one of the fastest in the world.  Crop yields and agricultural exports increased significantly.  And larger, more competitive companies emerged, including many in this room.

Growth in the last few years has slowed.  But I’m confident that with the right polices in place, improved farming techniques and the right technologies, Cambodia can develop into a leading producer.  And this is where U.S. companies can help.

For a number of reasons, the timing for this delegation couldn’t be better.  First, we all know that Cambodian producers face fierce competition in the region.  The American companies represented on this delegation are already operating successfully in Southeast Asia.  They know the regional markets well.  They offer world-class technology, equipment, and services that can help Cambodia increase productivity and yields and improve food processing and packaging capabilities.

Second, Cambodian agriculture faces complex barriers, such as sanitary and phytosanitary standards, that are a challenge to diversifying exports.  The American companies participating in this mission can help Cambodia meet those challenges as well and rise to the next level.

Third, this delegation builds off important work and reforms by both the government and private sector groups in Cambodia to set the conditions for accelerated growth in the sector.  For example, the government has taken steps recently to improve credit supply to farmers.  This work sends a clear message that world class technology, equipment, and services are welcome in Cambodia.

And finally, this delegation builds off more than 10 years of U.S. development assistance to Cambodian agriculture.  Our assistance initially focused on food security and the production of basic foodstuffs, but has now shifted toward helping Cambodian farmers compete in the very competitive regional and international markets.  So we’re delighted that representatives from USAID and our Harvest II program are participating in today’s discussion.

American companies represent American values.  They adhere to high standards and are respected around the world for having corporate cultures that promote transparency, community-focused development, and adherence to the law.

The companies here today are looking for customers, but they are also looking for long-term partners, not just companies, but also partnerships with farmers, local communities, and committed government officials.   Because of this, they are terrific ambassadors from America to the rest of the world.

We hope this event is the start of a long-term partnership and a process that will bring more agriculture business and trade to both our countries.  And we are committed to following up with all of you to ensure that happens.

Let me introduce a couple of the folks that will be leading that follow-up effort and who have played a large role in helping organize this event:

  • Greg Wong is our Foreign Commercial Service Counselor in Bangkok.
  • Robert Hanson is the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture office in Hanoi and Megan Francic is our Agricultural Attaché in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Clint Brewer is representing our Foreign Commercial Service office in Singapore.
  • And of course, most of you already know David Sequeira and Sang Lee at our embassy here.

Together, they represent the front line of our commercial promotion efforts in Southeast Asia and will be the best contacts for Cambodian companies going forward.  They can help hook up Cambodian companies to other U.S. companies working in the sector too.  Their contact information is on the screens here and we’ve also provided it to you in the registration packets, so you can reach out to them directly.

With that, I would just like to thank you all again for coming today and wish you a very fruitful day of discussions.  In a year or two, I hope we can look back on today as the day we began to help Cambodia move up the value chain from exporting raw agricultural products to become a processing and distribution powerhouse in Southeast Asia!

Ohkun czhraaln.  I look forward to raising a glass of American wine – one of our best agricultural exports – with you at tonight’s reception.