Interview with Bryan Fornari, Head of Cooperation at the European Delegation

This week, we spoke with Bryan Fornari, Head of Cooperaton at the European Delegation on the conclusion of the SME Export Talks, a collaboration between EuroCham and ARISE+ (funded by the EU and BMZ).

EuroCham: The SME Export Talks started in 2021 and have covered a wide variety of topics. Why was it important for the EU to fund ARISE+ and help make these talks a reality?

Bryan: Among the EU priorities in Cambodia, I would like to mention two that relate to these SMEs Export talks. In the first place we want to contribute to the development of a greener, more competitive and connected export industry, and secondly, we want to promote Cambodian SMEs’ integration into ASEAN and international markets (notably the EU) so they can fully reap the benefits of the existing Free Trade Agreements and Trade Preferences in place.

For that, SMEs need access to relevant and timely information. There are plenty of publications, and reports. Business Associations are also providers of information to their members and there are several comprehensive trade portals. In the EU we have “access2markets”, and the market portal of the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI). In Cambodia we have for example the MISTI portal and the MoC’s trade portal (through Go4eCAM with the support of the EU). However, SMEs need practical support to navigate all these resources, and apply the information provided in the “real life” decision-making processes.

It’s in this context that these Exports Talks have had a very successful format. The main reasons for the successful outcome of these talks were, in my view, the capacity to identify topics and trends of key significance for exporters, as well as to find professional speakers and presenters, able to provide relevant information on each selected subject, and address the audience questions. The presentation of success stories by SME owners themselves was also a useful contribution to these export talks.

EuroCham: Since the talks started, how would you say the overall landscape for SMEs in Cambodia has changed regarding exporting?

Bryan: For those SMEs that participated, I think these talks have contributed to a better understanding of the export process, including how to comply with target markets standards and certifications, how to find the best logistics solutions, which food safety requirements Cambodian agroindustry producers have to put in place. To sum up, how to become more competitive.

Furthermore, in these export talks we have learned about export opportunities of non-traditional export products to the European Union (dried fruits, cosmetics, cashew nuts, or sustainable textiles, to name some). These products can contribute to a diversification of Cambodia´s export basket, which ultimately will result in more resilience to external shocks.

EuroCham: How can Cambodian SMEs learn from EU business models and ensure that they reach the standards required by EU buyers?

Bryan: The EU has taken the lead in the shift to climate-neutral circular economy models and in the application of social and environmental due diligence in the value chains. There are many advantages of this approach such as reducing energy costs and waste, protecting the environment and ensuring social rights, to name some.

However, the most relevant one is that through this shift companies are becoming more competitive globally, and much more resilient to crises. Consumers are increasingly demanding products that last longer, that can be recycled, that do not derive from deforestation, or from forced labour. There is a huge opportunity for those companies that are willing to make this shift, including in Cambodia where we already see initiatives in the area of recycled fashion or eco charcoal briquettes. Our new trade programme will support Cambodian SMEs to meet these new consumers’ demands and become a relevant alternative to existing providers in these markets.

EuroCham: What sector do you find the most enticing for the EU concerning bilateral trade with Cambodia?

Bryan: I think there are export opportunities to the European market in several sectors, as we have learned through the SMEs Export Talks and the Export Guides developed by Eurocham. We see particular potential in products, such as Cashew nuts, pepper and sustainable textiles, and intend to work on these value chains with the Cambodian Royal Government and the private sector. We believe that we should put focus on higher standards and adding local value in Cambodia. Many agroindustry products are exported unprocessed to neighbouring countries that process and re-export them. Cambodia is missing an enormous business opportunity here.

EuroCham: What still needs to be done to strengthen Cambodian SMEs attempting to export and how will the EUD support this mission?

Bryan: To support the development of local value addition in Cambodia in sectors with export potential we will be working on agricultural value chains, notably cashew nuts and pepper, so that agroindustry SMEs can process these products in Cambodia and be able to export them directly, meeting international market requirements and standards. We are also working in the greening of the garment sector through the implementation of energy efficiency practices, thus addressing increasing demands for greener products in line with Cambodia’s own goals as identified in their NDC. Finally, we have partnered with Cambodia for several years in the area of trade, contributing to the digitalisation of customs procedures for faster and more reliable customs operations, in lines with the country’s WTO commitments. Reducing time for customs clearance, and enhancing predictability of rules and procedures, means less costs for business, and enhanced competitiveness.

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