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Seeing the financial crisis: What might contraction look like in Cambodia?

Stéphane Guimbert's picture

Declining revenue of tuk-tuk drivers in Cambodia shows even the informal sector isn't insulated.
Growth forecasts in Cambodia are generating a fair bit of confusion. Many simply question whether it is possible for GDP growth to be lower in 2009 than in the past 15 years.

The World Bank today launches its projection of a 1 percent contraction of the Cambodian economy. This is based on an analysis of available statistics and feedback from a range of economic actors. Yet, to most of my Cambodian friends, it remains hard to conceive.

It is true that "seeing" such a contraction will be difficult. Basically, what it means is that economic activity in 2009 will be pretty much the same as in 2008. So the fact that we continue to have traffic jams in Phnom Penh, see tourists at the Royal Palace, and hear construction machines in many residential areas is consistent with such a projection. What will change, though, is that incomes will not increase this year as fast as past years and it will also become more difficult for the 250,000 young people leaving school each year to find their first job. What also will be different is that with no growth in aggregate, there will be a proportion of those with a livelihood at the end of the year worse than at the beginning.

Debating Cambodia's growth: A tsunami in 2009?

Stéphane Guimbert's picture

The global slowdown is hurting Cambodia's tourism industry, with fewer visitors in late 2008 than in the same period of 2007. Image credit: flydime at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
Cambodia was one of the few Asian countries saved from the December 2004 devastating tsunami. But, a few days ago, at the Cambodia Economic Forum, panelists suggested that the economic tsunami – or various synonyms – would not spare Cambodia.

It's been a couple of months since the World Bank prepared the "perfect storm" report on the recent economic developments in East Asia. Our view at the time was that the crisis would reveal some of Cambodia's economic vulnerabilities – i.e. its lack of export diversification and its extreme reliance on foreign investment for growth. I think that this is an important lesson from our recent analysis on growth in Cambodia (more on this later).

Our projections for 2009 at the time were just below 5 percent GDP growth. This is consistent with the projections of the Government, the IMF, the Asian Development Bank, and an International Labor Organization (ILO) report on the impact of the crisis released yesterday. The Economist Intelligence Unit has a more pessimistic projection of 1 percent.

So who is right?