Cambodia…basically has one industry, the garment
trade, which employs about 300,000 people (almost all of them young
women), and probably supports about 10% of the population directly and
indirectly. Almost everyone else makes their living in agriculture,
with a small government elite, a smaller tourism community, and a tiny
small business sector…Cambodia’s garment trade is incredibly dependent on
special treatment from America, where it sells almost all its wares.
In other words, true free trade from China, for the United States, would devastate the Cambodian economy. If you wish to consider the strongest arguments for protectionism, they usually involve weighing the interests of one poor country against another, and not the interests of a poor country against a rich country. Here is the full discussion. Related lessons are that comparative advantage won’t necessarily yield pleasant price and wage ratios and that producing anything of value is truly, truly difficult. Given Cambodia’s previous problems, one also has to wonder whether mass migration to Vietnam is the best option available, provided of course that is possible.