The United States of America and the Kingdom of Cambodia celebrated 65 years of productive and mutually beneficial diplomatic relations in July 2015. The United States’ continued commitment to Cambodia and the region are exemplified by the participation of ASEAN leaders, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, at the February 2016 ASEAN summit in Sunnylands. In 2016, Cambodia welcomed a number of senior U.S. policymakers including Secretary Kerry to further strengthen bilateral cooperation and the growing bilateral economic relationship between the United States and Cambodia. The following are key highlights of U.S.-Cambodia cooperation in 2016.
Promoting Economic Development
On June 30, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced a significant expansion of Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for Cambodia, allowing it to export 27 categories of travel goods such as luggage, backpacks, handbags, and wallets to the United States duty free. This market opening gives Cambodia preferential access to the $10 billion U.S. travel goods market, and with sustained follow-up, could result in the emergence of a major new export industry in Cambodia. Ambassador Heidt, Commerce Minister H.E. Pan Sorasak, and Secretary General for the Council for the Development of Cambodia H.E. Sok Chenda Sophea traveled to Hong Kong in September to promote Cambodia as an investment destination for Chinese travel goods manufacturers.
In February 2016, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative visited Phnom Penh for the Third Joint Council Trade and Investment (TIFA) Meeting between the United States and Cambodia. The delegations discussed bilateral, regional, and multilateral trade issues, including the possibility of a Bilateral Investment Treaty between the U.S. and Cambodia.
The Council for the Development of Cambodia and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) signed $35 million in bilateral grant agreements in March 2016 covering health, basic education, agriculture/food security and environmental activities.
USAID and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries co-designed a new five-year $40 million agricultural development program to help vegetable farmers and agribusinesses earn greater incomes and reduce poverty. In addition, the program will triple U.S. support to rice field fishery refuges around the Tonle Sap with the goal of increasing fish production by at least 25 percent.
USAID supported the establishment of a new Agricultural Center of Excellence at the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA). The center will leverage expertise from the most prestigious American agriculture research universities to support RUA’s efforts to contribute to Cambodia’s Industrial Development Plan.
U.S. technical assistance to Cambodia’s Health Equity Fund (HEF) in 2016 helped expand its coverage to every health facility in the country ensuring that the poorest 20 percent of the country will have to access health care at reduced costs.
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers completed construction of the National Blood Transfusion Center (NBTC) in Phnom Penh in June 2016. The NBTC will enable the collection, storage, and distribution of clean, safe blood to the population. Additional humanitarian assistance construction projects included: regional blood centers in Siem Reap and Kampong Cham, health clinics, schools, and toilets for the improvement of provincial quality of life.
Protecting the Environment
The United States strongly supported the Cambodian government’s designation of over 430,000 hectares of tropical forest in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary as an official protected area. USAID worked with the Ministry of Environment to raise awareness of deforestation in and around Prey Lang forest. U.S. assistance supported more than 44 communities gain tenure of community forest lands, trained more than 138,000 people on forestry law and modernized methods to target illegal logging.
USAID provided critical technical support for a partnership between the Ministry of Environment and the Wildlife Conservation Society that announced a carbon credit sale for the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary to a U.S. company in July 2016. This first large carbon sale for Cambodia will provide sustainable financing for conservation efforts for approximately 60 percent of the 292,690 hectare Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary.
USAID provided important technical support to the Ministry of Environment on its draft Environment and Natural Resources Management Code, an overarching legal framework for the protection of natural resources. In addition to protecting Cambodia’s natural and cultural heritage, the Code is designed to fully implement Cambodia’s rights, obligations, and responsibilities under relevant international agreements, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Supporting Cultural Preservation
The United States has provided more than $3.5 million in assistance since 2001 to protect and preserve Cambodia’s cultural heritage, primarily through the State Department’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation. The United States is an active member of the International Coordinating Committees (ICC) for Angkor and for Preah Vihear, which provide advice and guidance to the authorities that oversee Cambodia’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The U.S. government continued to fund conservation work at the Phnom Bakheng temple, carried out by the World Monuments Fund, and announced a new grant to document archaeological sites in southern Cambodia. The United States also supported two cultural site security workshops and sponsored a public relations campaign to deter looting.
The United States assisted in the return of looted cultural objects, including the voluntary return of a 10th century Torso of Rama statue by the Denver Art Museum.
Enhancing People-to-People Ties
In 2016, the U.S. Embassy issued more than 5,300 visas to Cambodians to enter the United States, and nearly 500 Cambodian students attended U.S. schools. At the same time, U.S. interest in tourism to Cambodia continues to climb, with an estimated 220,000 visitors arriving last year.
The U.S. Embassy sponsored 88 student and professional exchanges to the United States. The Embassy also hosted a number of cultural and educational visits, including a Sports Envoy program featuring U.S. basketball stars and the TechCamp H2.0 workshop, which brought together 50 young people to brainstorm solutions to water-related challenges.
The United States provided intensive English-language training to 238 high school students in seven provinces through the English Access Microscholarship Program. The Embassy also supported professional English Language Fellows in Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham, Battambang, and Siem Reap and sponsored the annual CamTESOL conference for teachers of English.
Peace Corps celebrated 10 years of peace and friendship with the people of Cambodia last year and an event to commemorate this anniversary and the swearing-in of the 10th cohort was held on September 16. The number of Peace Corps Volunteers increased from 116 in 2015 to 132 in 2016. The volunteers taught at upper and lower secondary schools and teacher training centers to improve English teaching and teacher training and worked at health clinics to promote community health education.
Since arriving in Cambodia in September 2015, Ambassador Heidt has visited every Cambodian province except Koh Kong, meeting with government leaders and civil society in most of them. He also has met with Cambodian diaspora residing in Long Beach, California and Lowell, Massachusetts.
Military and Security Cooperation
U.S. security assistance in 2016 focused on increasing professionalism, competence, and capacity within the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) across a wide range of sectors, including maritime security, peacekeeping operations, countering transnational crimes, detection and response to disease outbreaks, disaster preparedness, environmental security, and humanitarian issues.
The United States and Cambodia held several bilateral table top exercises to improve preparedness and readiness of Armed Forces in 2016. This included the “Angkor Opening” which allowed participants to practice the re-opening of the Sihanoukville Port after a fictitious tropical cyclone rendered the facilities inoperable; the “Angkor Sentinel Exercise” which consisted of Cambodian and Army soldiers training side-by-side on tasks associated with potential humanitarian assistance and disaster response scenarios; the “Cooperation Readiness and Training Afloat (CARAT) Exercise” which allowed Cambodian and American sailors to practice maritime skills at Ream Naval Base; and “Pacific Angel” which provided medical services to the hundreds of people at a clinic set up at Ang Chum Trapaing Chhuk Junior High School and Thivong Primary School in Kampot.
The United States greatly appreciates Cambodia’s longstanding support for U.S. efforts to account for personnel missing in action as a result of the Indochina conflicts. From January to March 2016, with support from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, a team from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency performed an excavation of a POW/MIA site in Stung Treng province. Delegations from the United States and Cambodia held in depth consultations on our POW/MIA cooperation in September 2016.
With support from the international community, Cambodian deminers have cleared approximately half of Cambodia’s mine-impacted communities. The United States has supported mine clearance activities in Cambodia since the end of hostilities and currently funds $5.5 million in annual survey and clearance efforts, including the first underwater demining unit in Southeast Asia.
Law Enforcement Cooperation
In 2016, the U.S. Embassy sent 118 Cambodian law enforcement officers from the Cambodian National Police, the General Department of Immigration, and other agencies to 29 courses at the International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok.
In December 2016, the General Department of Customs and Excise (GDCE), acting on information from U.S. law enforcement agencies, intercepted three ocean going containers suspected of holding a large quantity of illicit wildlife. The authorities discovered more than one and a half tons of illicit African elephant ivory along with thousands of Pangolin scales and dozens of leopard skulls and assorted bones. U.S. Embassy law enforcement personnel worked with Cambodian counterparts to inventory the contraband under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) protocols and subsequently conduct DNA testing of the ivory to determine its provenance.
U.S. and Cambodian law enforcement agencies worked together to successfully reduce child sexual exploitation. Acting on information from U.S. law enforcement, the General Department of Immigration arrested three fugitive pedophile convicts with outstanding arrest warrants in the United States. The individuals were deported from Cambodia to the United States to face charges.
Trafficking in Persons
On June 30, the Department of State upgraded Cambodia’s status in its annual Trafficking in Persons report from “Tier 2 Watchlist” to “Tier 2.” The upgrade reflected significant efforts by Cambodia to enforce its human trafficking laws, reduce sex trafficking of children, improve services for trafficking victims, and work effectively with the United States and other international partners.