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International donors must call Cambodia out on corruption

Economic growth is leaving the poor behind

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A supporter of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party takes part in a march to deliver a petition to the parliament and King Norodom Sihamoni, asking them to intervene in the country's political crisis, in Phnom Penh on May 30, 2016.   © Reuters

Cambodia's economy has grown rapidly in the last two decades, with gross domestic product increasing almost sixfold from 1998 to 2015, according to the World Bank. But for most of that period, headline economic growth failed to generate commensurate development outcomes or increases in government revenue.

Annual growth in GDP exceeded 7% from 2011 to 2016, and is forecast by the Bank to hit 6.9% in 2017. But the growth record is not that impressive compared to countries such as the Philippines, East Timor, Laos and Myanmar. In any case, Cambodia may face a gradual economic slowdown, caused by its focus on exploiting low-skilled, low-cost labor to attract foreign investment to produce goods for export rather than on developing the country's human capital. Even the Asian Development Bank, a strong supporter of the export factory growth model for developing Asia, warned in May 2016 that Cambodia has to diversify its economy "if it hopes to maintain the high growth rates it has enjoyed in recent years."

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