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US Senate to debate ‘Magnitsky style’ legislation for Cambodian officials as bilateral trade surges

The US Senate will reintroduce legislation that would enable sanctions to be used to freeze assets of senior Cambodian officials who “undermine democracy, engage in corruption, or otherwise violate human rights”, according to a statement released by three leading US senators.

In addition, the act would also require the US president to submit a report to Congress on China’s activities in Cambodia assessing whether this had caused a deterioration of democracy and human rights.

An earlier version of the bipartisan ‘Cambodia Democracy and Human Rights Act’ planned by Democratic Senators Ed Markey and Dick Durbin and Republican Marco Rubio has already passed the House of Representatives in 2019.

The act will be debated as the US market became the number one export destination for Cambodian-made products during the first six months of 2021. The two countries have committed to continue strengthening bilateral cooperation with increasing two-way trade a cornerstone of bilateral policy.

According to the US foreign trade census data, Cambodia exported $3.63 billion worth of products this year, an increase of 32% compared to the same period last year, and imported $202.6 million of goods from the US, an increase of 40.3% year-on-year.

The increase was despite the US having yet to reauthorize its General System of Preferences (GSP) trade-benefits program following its December 31 lapse last year, which resulted in import duties applying to all travel goods shipments entering the US from Cambodia.

Chad Roedemeier, a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Phnom Penh referred Cambodia Investment Review to the specific members of Congress sponsoring the pieces of legislation for direct comment but said that Cambodia would be a more attractive destination for investors with a stronger rule of law.

“More generally, the United States remains concerned about eroding human rights and the weakening of democratic institutions in Cambodia. The Kingdom will become a more attractive destination for U.S. investors with stronger rule of law and transparent institutions,” Roedemeier said.

“American companies are the gold standard for trade and investment. They look for stable business environments, sustainable use of natural resources, transparency and rule of law, and opportunities to partner with local communities through corporate social responsibility programs,” he added.

Cambodia Investment Review notes that Cambodia continues to be an increasingly popular investment destination for US companies with multiple well-known brands entering the market over the last 20 years. In May, nine US franchisors participated in a US Embassy virtual expo after identifying Cambodia as a ‘next step’ market highlighting the nation’s rising incomes and its middle-class connection to American culture.

An embassy statement said American brands have been successful and are growing in Cambodia, ranging from Ford automobiles and Facebook to Starbucks coffee and Papa John’s pizza.

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