21st century Cambodia is a popular tourist destination that has been quietly growing when it comes to the mining industry
Nestled between Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia is perhaps most well-known for Angkor Wat, a twelfth-century temple complex in Siem Reap that is depicted on the national flag and is a popular spot for tourists. Cambodia is a heavily forested country, with the central lowlands being covered in farms where they produce rice, corn, tobacco and more.
As with its neighbour Thailand, the official religion of Cambodia is Buddhism, with 95 per cent of the population identifying as practicing Buddhists. Almost 90 per cent of the population speak the single official language of Khmer, whilst the most common foreign languages are English and French.
Mining in Cambodia
Although not particularly renowned for its contribution to mining, Cambodia – and South-East Asia as a whole – has recently been making strides in the global resources industry. Currently, mining in Cambodia is seen as being ‘in the exploration phase rather than the exploitation phase’ (SES, 2019). There are a number of projects currently being explored, with some considered major projects and overseen by renowned companies.
Canadian-owned company Angkor Gold has been working in Cambodia since 2009. Over the past decade, the Cambodian government upgraded infrastructure and made various improvements across the board. Some of these include highway access upgrades and new Anti-Corruption laws, both of which have greatly increased the potential to invest and mine in the country.
Alongside these improvements, the Cambodia Association for Mining and Exploration Companies (CAMEC) was formed in 2009. CAMEC represents a range of companies in the mining industry, allowing them to freely contact each other and service provider companies. CAMEC also hosts regular events at which guest speakers discuss topics relating to the mining and exploration industry in Cambodia.
Mining in South-East Asia
South-East Asia as a whole is garnering more attention from the resources industry. In Vietnam for example, there are over 5000 mineral deposits, including in-demand rare metals.
Cambodia’s north-eastern neighbour Laos is ranked as one of the most resource-rich countries in all of Asia, having abundant amounts of gold, copper, zinc and lead. Recent calculations had Laos being home to over 800 million tons of copper, two million tons of zinc and 500 tons of gold (SES, 2019).
Finance and trade
Cambodia’s GDP (US$22 billion) is the highest it has ever been and has grown every year for the past two decades. According to World Bank, the GDP has doubled in the past decade, having been at US$10.4 billion dollars in 2009 following the global financial crisis.
In 2017, Cambodia was the world’s 74th largest exporter, exporting US$15.8 billion worth of goods to countries all over the globe.
The majority of Cambodia’s exporting comes from clothing, with knitted clothes being the most common item that the country produces. Clothing accounted for around US$11 billion of the total exported goods in 2017.
‘There are a number of projects currently being explored, with some considered major and overseen by renowned companies.’
The top five countries that Cambodia exported goods to in 2017 were the United States (19 per cent of exports), Germany (11 per cent), the United Kingdom (8.2 per cent), Japan (8 per cent) and France (6.5 per cent).
When taking into account Cambodia’s US$12 billion import rate in 2017 (83rd in the world), the country has a positive trade balance of US$3.8 billion in net exports. When compared to their negative trade balance of US$819 million some 20 years ago, it is easy to see Cambodia’s considerable financial growth over the last couple of decades.
Policies and strategies
Despite taking great steps forward financially, Cambodia has often lagged behind its neighbours when it comes to knowledge-based development and technological advances. To combat this, The Cambodia National Science and Technology Plan 2014-2020 was developed.
The plan highlights industrial innovation as a key focus, with a particular spotlight on agriculture, primary industries, and ICT (information and communication technology). Changes have been made by government that have since seen rapid growth at the local level.
This growth includes both internet and mobile phone usage. As of 2018, 50 per cent of the Cambodian population was using the internet, just under the global number of 53 per cent. Cambodia also had the seventh highest ration of mobile connections to population, with 29 million mobile connections. This equated to almost two mobile connections per person with the population at the time.
As a growing player in the mining industry, Cambodia is seen as a nation with great untapped potential. With its promising geology, a stable government and mining policies that favour companies, Cambodia is ready to take the next step in its contribution to the resources sector.