Laggard no more: Cambodia pushes pedal on the digital economy

Cambodia digital economy
Image by Hernan Schmidt | Bigstockphoto

With ASEAN on the rise to be a global digital hub, Cambodian authorities have embarked on an aggressive strategy to speed up digitalization in the country. Last week, Cambodia’s king signed a decree to form a National Digital Economic and Social Council aimed at economic growth through technology while protecting the government, companies, or individuals from cybercrime.

Compared to Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, Cambodia has ranked low regionally in the areas of innovation and technology advancement. However, the country’s population is fast adopting digital technology. The country actually has one of the highest mobile penetration rates globally, with 20.8 million connections or 124% coverage as of 2021.

An Asian Development Bank (ADB) report states that digital transformation in Cambodia will only be possible by overcoming key barriers such as gaps in supporting infrastructure; weak governance institutions which struggle with implementing new technology tools like AI or Blockchain; and limited awareness among people who are not yet familiar about what it means when their country becomes fully “digitized”.

In the last three years, the Cambodian government has made significant strides to overcome these barriers and achieve its goal of becoming an ICT-driven upper-middle-income country by 2030. 

Following the formation of the Council, the Cambodian Embassy in Thailand organized a video conference, where government representatives explored initiatives to improve digital infrastructure and promote e-commerce between the two countries.

“E-commerce has been growing quite fast, especially through the pandemic, but we also have the problem of capitalizing this kind of e-commerce as well as the digital platform that has been mainly influenced by the tech giants of other countries, so what we have to do is not only to make sure the market grows but also to make sure that this will benefit the local industry and the local sellers as well,” said Kasititorn Pooparadai, Senior Executive Vice-President at Cambodia’s Digital Economy Promotion Agency.

The focus on the local industry and local sellers is at the core of Cambodia’s digital strategy. In 2020, the government launched the Techo Startup Center, a school for digital entrepreneurs where the government aims to scale and fund promising ideas and businesses.

Last week, foreign companies also welcomed Cambodia’s planned investment law, approved by the country’s National Assembly. With this law, Cambodia will provide incentives for new technology and value-added production processes among local companies while attracting more foreign and local investors and protecting their rights.

The new investment law and other related policies will also open doors for Cambodia’s 500,000 micro, small and medium enterprises, of which 95% are informal, unregistered businesses.

Related article: Uproar over Cambodia’s establishment of China-style internet gateway

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