Digital economy

Cambodia Urged to Embrace Industry 4.0

Cambodia must embrace the opportunities of digitalization as it enters a technological revolution, spurned by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A construction worker walks past a building in Tuol Kork district, Phnom Penh, on December 6, 2021. Picture Sam.
A construction worker walks past a building in Tuol Kork district, Phnom Penh, on December 6, 2021. Picture Sam.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred Cambodia to further catalyze efforts to boost the country’s digital readiness and resilience to future crises, while bringing a raft of economic opportunities.

United Nations Resident Coordinator to Cambodia, Pauline Tamesis, said on Tuesday that a manufacturing country like Cambodia must carefully manage the impacts of the 4th industrial revolution with regard to changes in automation, robotization and digitalization.

“The 4th industrial revolution can certainly yield benefits and positive change in terms of productivity and environmental impact. This could also affect the labor force, notably those who are weaker and least prepared to benefit from the industrial revolution,” Tamesis told a two-day virtual conference on Boosting Cambodia’s 4IR Transformation.

Tamesis said the Covid crisis and related lockdown measures have affected production and social relationships globally. Cambodia is not an exception.

She added the pandemic is also an opportunity for the government to harness the opportunities of digital transformation. This includes remote workforces, e-commerce, digital manufacturing, digital learning platform and innovations. Discussions should also be inclusive to ensure no one is left behind, Tamesis said.

“The questions I hope we will consider…how can we ensure that in Cambodia the unfolding transformations in technology are put to best use so that no one is left behind in the transformation; no one is left behind in the digital revolution,” she said.

UNIDO’s Managing Director of Directorate of Digitization, Technology and Agribusiness, Bernardo Calzadilla-Sarmiento, noted that the Covid pandemic has negatively affected Cambodia’s development agenda. The economy contracted by 3 percent in 2020, severely hitting the country’s textile and tourism sectors.

He said despite the reopening of the economy and gradual recovery of the local tourism and textile industries, the gains do not yet offset the damage suffered in 2020, and the country should catalyze opportunities from emerging technologies. This includes 3-D printing, advanced production, and artificial intelligence.

“COVID-19 has become an unforeseen accelerator for the digital transformation. There is a unique window for ASEAN countries to leverage this situation,” said Calzadilla-Sarmiento.

He added there have been tractions that technologies can make key economic sectors resilient following Covid-19. “There is no way back,” he said.

Minister of Industry, Science, Technology, and Innovation Cham Prasidh said the government has a strong commitment to advance the 4th revolution. Cambodia aims to become a middle-income country by 2030 and higher income country by 2050.

Cham Prasidh also urged development partners, including ADB, to put science, technology, and innovations into their core funding programs for Cambodia. He said emerging technologies and innovations are keys to transforming the economy digitally, however, more investments are needed.

“In the post-pandemic era, the re wiring of society will be a top priority for everyone to reconnect in a world of the new normal,” Cham Prasidh said.

He noted that the country needs to strengthen the manufacturing automation process, internet access and speed, and the creation of data base centers, digital startup and techno parts.

“Innovation solutions require further investment in research and development in scientific technology and innovation infrastructures, proper development of human capital and a robust national scientific technology ecosystem,” he said.