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Cambodia - Long Road Ahead
Cambodia officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia and once known as the Khmer Empire, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. The capital and largest city is Phnom Penh, the political, economic, and cultural center of Cambodia. Emerging as one of the attractive economies, Cambodia has eyed to become a precious stone and jewellery hub in Southeast Asia region in the near future. Nevertheless this traditional and family run market has a long way to go. Kunjal Karaniya explores this market.
By: Diamond World News Service
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Apr 23 2014 4:00PM
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Reference: 9060  

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With the fast growing market of over 14 million population, Cambodia has emerged as one of the safest nations and most attractive economies in the region. An average GDP growth of 8% in the past 10 years has exceeded all expectations, and through its membership in ASEAN (since 1999) and in the World Trade Organization (since 2004), the country has made tremendous progress in integrating its emerging economy into the regional and global trading system. H.E. Dr. Cham Prasidh, Senior Minister, Minister of Commerce, at an event said, “Our country has possessed four fundamental advantages - political stability; macro-economic stability; a sound, transparent and predictable legal framework and many trade preferences.”

Land of Cambodia is rich in many varieties of gems, but only precious gems such as – sapphires, rubies and emeralds. The most famous Cambodian mines are located in Pailin. Sapphires from Pailin are considered among the best sapphires in the world, there’s even a special colour grade ‘Pailin’ used in jewellery for classification of blue sapphires. Besides sapphires, Pailin has ruby and emerald mines, however, production of emerald is minor. Most part of emeralds one can find in Cambodia are imported from India. One can find jewellery booths on any big market in Phnom Penh or Siem-Reap. Russian market (Psaa Tul Tum Pum) or Yellow market (Psaa Tmai) in Phnom Penh have large jewellery areas. There are several big shops around Yellow market, with similar choice and quality of goods. Phnom Penh is Cambodia's capital and only major city, it is really the only place to be if one is shopping for diamond jewellery in this country. Cambodia's market culture is always about haggling and there is always threat of fake gemstones and diamonds. There is not much awareness about certification.

Cambodia has eyed to become a precious stone and jewellery hub in Southeast Asia region in the near future, Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh said recently at an event.“Gems and jewellery industry apart from being one of the key trade promotional areas of Cambodia, it is also an industry playing important roles for tourist attractions,” he said. “Gems and jewellery fairs have been positioned as the most important sourcing platforms in Cambodia, and the country plans to be the prominent gem and jewellery market supplier in Southeast Asia region in the near future,” he added.

Cambodia is also promoting gems and jewellery industry to boost foreign tourists’ arrival in the Asian nation. “Gems and Jewellery sector is an industry playing an important role for tourist attractions, which complements tourist activities,” said Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh. However, he said, “It is important that tourists are well protected from the substandard and fake products. There is a need for having in place quality assurances program product testing, inspection and certification to ensure that all jewellery products sold in Cambodia are of specified quality and standard.” Khut Sothy, country manager of Intertek Cambodia, said that to date, Cambodia had been lacking in assurances in proper quality of gems that concerns some buyers. “In Cambodian market, almost no one checks the quality when they buy gems and they usually just believe in the sellers. If the sellers say the gem is good, then just believe them.” According to Khut Sothy, there have been cases of complaints by foreign buyers.

The impoverished country launched its first gem and jewellery laboratory recently under the joint venture with the London-based Intertek Company. The laboratory is a venue to provide quality assurances, product testing, inspection and certification to ensure that all jewellery products sold in Cambodia are of specified quality and standard.

Hence, the laboratory is established to strengthen the quality of gems and jewellery products in Cambodia, to comply with international standards and to build the trust of consumers as well as to prevent fraud of qualities.Tourist industry provides approximately 2.5 million international tourists arrivals every year, especially at the Angkor Wat heritage temples and gems and jewellery sector plays an important role in attracting tourists in the country, he added.Shopping for jewellery in a third-world country such as Cambodia offers numerous advantages such as cheaper labour and closer proximity to certain gemstone sources that make it substantially less expensive than shopping for similar items in the West. However, Cambodia is also a country that has a lot of order and very little law, so a shopper needs to be very wary, indeed, when it comes to issues like product quality, scams, and fraudulent goods.

Intertek’s laboratory manager, Kabir Grover, said the industry needs four or five years to make it and be recognised on the international market. He called the lab an accelerator for exports, since it will increase trust and confidence in the Kingdom’s gem and jewellery products.“The market is still slow and it will take time for the industry to grow,” Kabir said, “We are trying to educate local vendors to know the benefit of getting certification which plays a key role to build confidence for buyers.”

Dy Ly, owner of Pailin Dy Ly Gem shop, said most gemstones in Cambodia are traded within tight-knit family businesses, and the level of production is not that high.“Many of Cambodia’s jewellery and gems are sent across the border for processing in Thailand, or if it is locally produced, for instance, gem cutting, polishing and designs are commonly done by hand,” Ly said. Grover said that because of the traditional production practices, jewellery and gems are seen as unreliable, scaring away international traders.

According to a report by KPMG, global jewellery sales will grow at 4.6 per cent year-on-year. The global jewellery market could reach $280 billion in 2015, up from $185 billion in 2010.While the U.S. remains at the top of the table with 30 per cent of the total market share, the report found that India and China are gaining ground.By 2015, China is expected to see about 22 per cent of the diamond processing market.“I have been selling gems to many ASEAN countries, and the Chinese market is the largest ordered of my product,” said Tay Heab, a local gem trader.He said that the price of gems has slightly increased compared to prices last year, and orders for products from his shop are also on the rise.

With the many tax preferential or tax-free treatments extended to Cambodia as one of the Least Developed Countries by many developed nations including the United States, gems and jewellery traders around the region might move their bases to Cambodia to take advantages of their reduced tariffs on imports. Besides, Cambodia was admitted as a member of the Kimberley Process on November 30, 2012 in Washington D.C., the United States. The Kimberley Process (KP) is a joint governments, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds-- rough diamonds used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments. As of November 2012, the KP has 54 participants, representing 80 countries and regions, according to its website. “As a member of the Kimberley Process, Cambodia will be able to obtain significant advantages to win legal trust in such industry, and be able to attract major investors to establish diamond-cutting factories in Cambodia,” Cham Prasidh said. He said the gem and jewellery industry would create tens of thousands of jobs for the people, enabling them to acquire specific skills in cutting diamonds, as well as opening Cambodian market to the European Community, the United States and in other countries.

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