Sowing and Sewing Growth: The Political Economy of Rice and Garments in Cambodia

Stanford Center for International Development Working Paper No. 384

22 Pages Posted: 9 May 2009

Date Written: March 30, 2009


What explains Cambodia’s double digit growth in 2006, 2005, and 2004 of 11%, 13%, and 10%, respectively, despite relatively poor governance (162 out of 179 countries in the 2007 Corruption Perception Index, 151 out of 163 in 2006, 130 out of 158 in 2005 the year in which it was first ranked)? Why do some sectors thrive while others fail under such conditions? This paper undertakes a review of the relevant literature and analyzes the results of detailed semi-structured interviews with at least 50 firms/businessmen, government, and non-government officials to understand the dynamics of governance and growth focused around two types of sectors in Cambodia: 1) Successful sectors such as garments in which the chapter seeks to elucidate how firms have coped, and the “cover” mechanism that has allowed them to thrive in relative terms (e.g., is it connections to the prevailing government insiders?) has been to date; and 2) Less than successful sectors such as rice for which the chapter identifies emerging patterns of engagement among the Cambodian state, foreign investors and indigenous business. Not unlike what happened with garments exports to the US, an arbitrage opportunity is unfolding in rice. The European Union’s “Everything But Arms” initiative takes full effect in September 2009 permitting Cambodia, as a least developed country, to export rice to the EU tariff-free. Likewise in garments, the creation of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) in 1999 enabled manufacturers to interact with a single voice with the State, and to negotiate standard “payments”. At the same time, membership in GMAC is required for any garments manufacturer to export legally. Similar patterns have already emerged in the rice sector, where Green Trade, a state-owned enterprise, and the Cambodian National Rice Millers Association, were the only two entities licensed to export shipments of more than 100 tons of rice in 2008.

Keywords: Cambodia, growth, governance, trade policy

JEL Classification: O12, O19, O24, O53

Suggested Citation

Ear, Sophal, Sowing and Sewing Growth: The Political Economy of Rice and Garments in Cambodia (March 30, 2009). Stanford Center for International Development Working Paper No. 384, Available at SSRN: or

Sophal Ear (Contact Author)

Occidental College ( email )

1600 Campus Road
Los Angeles, CA 90041
United States

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