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Cambodia's exports defy global slump

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The slowdown in the global economy hasn’t stopped people buying Cambodian products, Kong Putheara, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, says. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia's total exports increased by more than 10 per cent year-on-year in 2012, despite a slowdown in the global economy and the Kingdom’s main traditional export markets, the US and the European Union.  

The growth rate, however, is far below the level in 2011.

An International Monetary Fund report released on January 9 warns that the spillover from a deepening euro-zone crisis and severe global financial turbulence could affect Cambodia’s export growth.

Total exports rose by 10.2 per cent to US$5.48 billion last year, compared with $4.97 billion in 2011. The export rate in 2011 was 40 per cent greater than in 2010.  

Kong Putheara, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, acknowledged the impact from last year’s slowdown.

“I agree with the effect on our exports to Europe and the US, because they haven’t dealt with their economic difficulties,” Putheara said.

“But there is still demand there for our exports, especially garments. This means  the economic slowdown hasn’t stopped people buying our products.”

Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodia Economic Association, echoed Putheara’s sentiments.

“Our export growth has slowed down, but the demand is still there,” Sophal said.  

The data shows total exports of garments and textiles rose nine per cent last year to $4.61 billion, from $4.24 bill-ion in 2011.

The total value of agricultural products declined by 4.4 per cent from $422 million to $403 million.

Van Sou Ieng, chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia,  said garment and textile exports were lower than in previous years because of the numerous strikes by garment workers over low wages.

Although the economic crisis in the US and Europe had played a part, “The most damaging (factor) was the ill-egal strikes and negotiation of wages, which make the industry unstable,” Ieng said.

This made the industry’s productivity and costs less competitive, compared with countries such as Bangladesh and India, he said.

The strikers were calling for higher wages before the review period (in 2014), and the stoppages were therefore llegal, causing factories to suffer or even close down, Ieng said.

“We appeal to the government to maintain a balance between democratic elections and sustained growth of the economy... don’t worry about losing votes from the trade unions if they are wrong.”

Meanwhile, to ensure the garment industry continued growing, Ieng said he was trying to increase productivity through personnel training, as well as by introducing new technology.

Putheara also said strikes could contribute to slow growth, but could be resolved in the short term.

On Wednesday, the World Bank projected Cambodia’s gross domestic product would increase by 6.7 per cent.

To contact the reporters on this story: May Kunmakara at kunmakara.may@phnompenhpost.com
Low Wei Xiang at lowweixiang@live.com

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