Today the American Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia is a dynamic, growing organisation, contributing to the growth of the Kingdom’s economy and improving Cambodian-American relations. But it was not always so.
Founded more than 20 years ago, it represented a small group of US citizens working in Cambodia. Although I was an original board member, as was Michael Hayes, the founder of The Phnom Penh Post, AmCham was the brainchild of Kevin Whitcraft, a member of a famous entrepreneurial family in Bangkok.
Kevin founded RMA, a major player in the business community here whose American products include Ford, John Deere, Pizza Company and Krispy Creme Donuts, among others. He was familiar with the AmCham in Thailand and thought we should replicate it here.
Kevin then moved on to other opportunities. It was at that time that I became chairman, primarily because no one else wanted to do the job! Little did I know at the time that it would become almost a lifetime appointment!
In the early days, AmCham was known as the American Cambodian Business Council (AmCam) because the Ministry of Commerce would not let business associations use the title of “chamber of commerce” as it only recognised the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce.
The ministry later relented and allowed any business association to use the phrase – and AmCam became AmCham.
Over the years, AmCham has greatly profited from its partnership with the US Embassy. This has been demonstrated in many ways.
We have held joint meetings, dinners and events. We have joined successive US Ambassadors on business missions to a variety of destinations, including Singapore, Bangkok and the US.
The most recent such mission was the delegation Ambassador Patrick Murphy took to the Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Bangkok in November last year, in conjunction with the Asean Summit.
The AmCham partnership with the US Embassy is demonstrated also by virtue of the existence of the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). An organisation led by the Embassy’s regional security officer, it focuses on a variety of issues of interest to the expatriate population.
This unique body knows of no parallel entity in the business community.
AmCham has also participated in regional and international business groups. We have long been a member of an association of AmChams in the region, originally known as APCAC – the Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers.
We also have been represented at Operation Doorknock, held in Washington, DC, every summer. In addition, we send our executive director to the regional meetings of the executive directors of all the regional AmChams. We even hosted such a meeting years ago in Siem Reap.
The Cambodian AmCham also has long been an affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC. We have visited the US Chamber many times over the years and recently even had a senior representative visit us in Cambodia.
We also have substantial interaction with the US-Asean Business Council, a business association comprised of many major corporations.
It has a business mission to Cambodia on a nearly annual basis, and AmCham typically gives a country briefing to them. Among the major corporations represented here locally include Coca-Cola, Chevron, Ford, GE and Dupont, among others.
In addition to outreach to the national, regional and international business communities, AmCham has an active programme of interaction with the Royal Government of Cambodia, in order to improve the economy and Cambodia-US relations.
In recent years we have hosted receptions, speeches, and luncheons for a variety of government officials, including the Ministers of Commerce, Education, Public Works and Transport, and Labour, and their staff, as well as members of the National Assembly and the Anti-Corruption Unit.
AmCham also interacts with the American community in general. We participate in the usual US activities, such as the 4th of July party, Memorial Day party, Thanksgiving dinner and the Marine Corps Ball, as well as other annual events.
Looking to the future, we can confidently say that AmCham’s best days are still to come.
Under the dynamic leadership of the current AmCham, led by chairman Allen Tan and executive director Erich Phillips, we have witnessed a dramatic growth in members, committees and activities.
We are aided in this effort by an active Board of Governors and capable staff. So the contributions of AmCham to Cambodian-American relations will continue well into the future.
The best is yet to come!
Bretton G Sciaroni
AmCham chairman emeritus and founding member