PM: Economic growth hampered by Covid-19

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen greets passengers of the MS Westerdam cruise ship docked at Preah Sihanouk port last week. Hun Sen's Facebook page

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday reiterated that the Kingdom’s projected economic growth of 6.5 per cent will be hit hard by the Coronavirus outbreak, and not because of the EU’s partial withdrawal of the ‘Everything But Arms’ (EBA) scheme.

Addressing nearly 2,000 trainee teachers at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, he said the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, which causes the disease now known as Covid-19, has caused fear and discrimination which has negatively affected Cambodia.

“The projection is that our [economic] growth is 6.5 per cent. We are sure that there will be a downturn in this, but it is not due to EBA. Our [EU] market remains the same,” he said, referring to the EU’s decision to withdraw one-fifth of the preferential EBA scheme last week.

“The matter is born out of mounting fear and discrimination, which have resulted in a crisis. First, it hits tourism in all countries including Cambodia.

“Europeans don’t want to come to Asia now because they are afraid of infection. Even Asians don’t want to travel in Asia, and what matters is that Chinese tourists account for a large part of the tourism industry.

“Our economy is surely going to be impacted, especially tourism. The whole Asian region will be hit. It will affect tourism in Europe too.

“It will then hit some parts of the industry which import raw materials or spare parts from China, in addition to the [Sino-US] trade war. This will make it hard to predict global economic growth,” Hun Sen said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health issued a press release saying it is carrying out medical checks on all remaining passengers and crew of the MS Westerdam cruise ship in Preah Sihanouk province who are currently in Phnom Penh awaiting their departure from the Kingdom.

The move came after the Malaysian Health Ministry confirmed that an 83-year-old American woman tested positive for Covid-19.

“All individuals on the MS Westerdam cruise ship will have to follow up on their health check thoroughly. Those who have a high temperature, cough, and breathing difficulties need to inform local health authorities and report their travel history,” the ministry said.

Preah Sihanouk Provincial Hall spokesperson Kheang Phearum said there were still 233 passengers and 747 crew on the ship as of Tuesday afternoon.

“The 233 passengers have had their blood tested by the Pasteur Institute, and the crew would be tested later,” he said.

Christina Kerby, an American passenger who remained in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, said tests were performed for 406 MS Westerdam passengers and that the results were all negative.

Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng on Tuesday contacted his Malaysian counterpart Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad to discuss the case of the 83-year-old American woman who contracted Covid-19.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Dzulkefly said: “[We] discussed issues on Covid-19 with a special focus on the cruise ship passenger that tested positive in Malaysia. Malaysia and Cambodia will take all necessary measures to combat this virus.”

Hun Sen’s economic growth prediction comes amid the Covid-19 outbreak and after the partial EBA withdrawal.

Regarding the latter, the prime minister said he would not make any statement on the EU’s decision, saying it had the right to make it. But he urged the EU to respect Cambodia’s decision too.

“No need to talk much. Cambodia had endured challenges to get to where we are today. If they require us to pay a tax of $100 million, or more than $100 million, we will pay it.

“Import and export markets will remain operational. If they give us [EBA] we will take it. If they don’t, then that is their prerogative. We just want them to respect our rights too.

“Also, if there are any factory closures now, it is not due to the partial loss of the EBA because the suspension would not take effect until August,” he stressed.