Interview with Tassilo Brinzer, Chairman of EuroCham Cambodia

This week, we interviewed Tassilo Brinzer, chairman of EuroCham Cambodia, vice-chair of the EU-ASEAN Business Council, and successful entrepreneur. Mr. Brinzer offers a preview of the upcoming Europe Week 2023 and gives insight on what it takes to succeed as a businessperson in Cambodia, as well as how Cambodian companies can better connect to Europe.

EuroCham: This is the second time EuroCham is hoting Europe Week after a sucessful inaugural celebration last year. How has EuroCham expanded its agenda for this year's edition?

Mr. Brinzer: We are trying to broaden the participation of hospitality and cultural players, with more outlets offering specials during Europe Week. This year we have a strong presence throughout the capital and want to show that European business is an integral part of Cambodia’s lifestyle and business community. By getting a “European Passport” and having it stamped at these participating businesses, guests can enjoy specials and discounts. We are also fortunate to have this week at the same time as the SEA Games, which are hosted fantastically by Cambodia and which bring great joy to locals and visitors alike. We hope that we can support these activities and bring a European perspective to the festivities. A bit later in May we will organize a youth day, and try to bring young entrepreneurs and professionals in touch with our European business community.

EuroCham: Who is the main audience for Europe Week and how can people get involved?

Mr. Brinzer: Its the whole community, really. Cambodian, Asian, American, European - we want to share what we do here, and invite our friends and colleagues to do that with us. Get your European Passport, and join the events and places that participate! We will also have, for the first time, a EuroCham Family Day on May 14th, at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra and its magnificent pool and garden area. Here members, their families and our friends from the Royal Government can meet in a relaxed athmosphere with a great European food and drinks selection, music, swimming and games.

EuroCham: One of the agenda items is the founding event of a new chapter at EuroCham, the Central & Eastern European Business Association. How was this idea formed and what are your hopes for this chapter?

Mr. Brinzer: It is the last chapter within EuroCham that offers an Umbrella to members from 10 EU countries. I think its a huge step as it allows us to better coordinate interest from and exchange with these countries in all aspects concerning investment, trade and economic interactions between them and Cambodia. The countries in this grouping include Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia. These countries are very important players within the EU but their members in Cambodian are few for each, and to have them jointly participate more in our activities here while organizing their own events and business missions is a huge boon to our work. Together with our other founding and national chapters, the French, German, Bristish, Italian, Benelux and Nordic we now have all 27 members states represented with their own grouping, which allows for a more efficient promotion of their markets and activities. I hope we can attract more members from these countries, and help them to do better business in Cambodia.

EuroCham: As chairman of EuroCham, vice-chair of the EU-ASEAN Business Council, and director of business ventures in Cambodia, you have a unique perspective on the particulars of the Cambodian marker. What is your view on prospects here, and what advice would you give to European entreprensurs hoping to succeed in Cambodia?

Mr. Brinzer: Well, Cambodia is a comparably small but very accessible market, and its very open to business. It has a fantastic geographical location at the heart of an important ASEAN subregion, the GMS with Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, which even includes parts of China (Yunnan). It has an expanding deep sea port in Sihanoukville, and is increasingly connected with these markets not only via hard infrastructure, but also digitally and via the provision of services. If Cambodia continues to stay open for business, and to integrate itself as a hub between these markets, it will continue to grow strongly in relevance to businesses interested in this subregion of over 200 million people. So also for European businesses, which are for many years very strongly represented in, for example, Thailand and Vietnam, there will be more opportunity here.

European entrepreneurs can place themselves right here, at the heart of this subregion, and companies in this region will expand to Cambodia; they will need services from here; their staff and management will come here for business and recreational purposes as Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City will be better connected to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap; subregional tourism and travel will grow. This will benefit the property market, the job market, increase skills and knowledge and the economy as a whole.

It remains important that Cambodia continues to integrate itself and presents itself as an attractive investment destination in the heart of the GMS. This requires easier processes that align themselves with administrative processes in neighboring countries; we should not build a very different regulative environment for example, as this makes it harder for international companies to invest here. There should at some point be an alignment with peers to facilitate cross border business, trade and travel. Customs facilitation is hugely important in this regards. Less red tape, internationalisation of administrative processes and procedures will help to get not only European, but any business to Cambodia. I much recommend to my European peers, in particular those already active in Southeast Asia, to have a good look at Cambodia and to consider it as a key part of their ASEAN business strategy.

EuroCham: On the other side, what could Cambodian companies do to better engage with the European market?

Mr. Brinzer: I think there are already excellent ties with Europe, it is an important Cambodian trade partner and will remain so, even as Cambodia grows itself out of some developing market trade benefits and market access facilitations. Hopefully, these can be replaced by intergrating manufactuing and services into regional supply chains in Vietnam in Thailand, which either have or negotiate FTA’s with Europe. So far, Cambodian exports are dominated by international brands and the companies supplying them, and we want to shift more of this business directly to Cambodian businesses, and to a broader spectre of them. In particular agricultural products from here have great prospects to be traded more with Europe - rice, cashew, pepper; also processed food products.

We also see great potential in newer areas, light manufacturing, electronics, the automotive sector. It will require that production, safety and environmental standards are adapted for better access and to meet Europe’s quite high standards and requirements. It seems complicated and often over regulated, for small Cambodian companies its a very difficult process to get their products to Europe. They need support in this, and to bundle their activities with government support. We try to help with seminars and trainings, work with for example Khmer Enterprise to help, and by providing some guidance. We have set up export promotion activities with our partners, GIZ and their Business Scouts, and try to bring Cambodian and European companies together. The higher the standards on which Cambodian businesses operate, the better - wether they want to deal with Europe or other parts of the world doesn’t matter. But once they can export to and trade with Europe, they can export to anywhere in the world.

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