If someone hears “labor intensive manufacturing in Cambodia,” the mental image is probably nothing what they’d see by visiting the Montana Fly Company (MFC) factory in Phnom Penh. Based in Columbia Falls, Montana and founded in 1998, MFC now has distributors in every fly fishing country.
The nature of MFC’s products – hand-tied patterns made from feathers, fur, hooks and filaments – doesn’t lend itself to automation. MFC has a roster of fly designers that create new patterns, which are then produced by over 500 workers in Cambodia. The factory is a “white-wall,” fully air conditioned facility with extra amenities like dehumidifiers to ensure comfortable working conditions in the tropical environment (see photos below).
While the minimum wage in Cambodia is around $190 per month, average MFC fly tyers make over twice as much and many make 4-5x that amount (workers are paid by the piece). It’s not just above-average wages: MFC workers get excellent benefits including extra vacation time and pay, 5 day work weeks, monthly bonuses, and company annual trips. Furthermore, its workforce is 100% vaccinated against Covid-19.
GSP expiration hinders growth despite very strong demand for outdoor products. Tariffs on artificial baits are 9% and MFC is paying about $15,000 per month in extra tariffs due to Congress’ failure to renew GSP. Potential new eligibility criteria that could result in lost GSP benefits for Cambodia – even for companies like MFC that clearly improve the lives of workers – would be even more damaging.
“I believe our facility and other ’boutique’ factories making hand-made products in Cambodia are exactly the types of businesses that the GSP was set up for” says MFC Founder Adam Trina. “Loss of GSP for Cambodia is not any kind of punishment for the government, it punishes workers in the smaller industries and companies like mine that provide those good jobs.”
Montana Fly Company is far from alone. It was one of over 300 American organizations that sent a letter to Congress in September urging commonsense updates in areas such as finding ways to exempt good actors from any punitive tariffs as part of GSP renewal. As Congress moves ahead on the trade agenda in the coming weeks and months, it should make encouraging and preserving “good trade under GSP” like MFC’s a top priority.