Cambodian exports to the United States saw a 3.7 per cent year-on-year increase in the first nine months of this year, according to the US Department of Commerce. Officials and insiders called the figure just a “slight increase”.
While the government and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), said production had been slowed by garment workers strikes, unions said enhancing workers rights was the key to greater output.
Exports to the US totalled $2.09 billion, compared with $2.01 billion in the same period last year, data by the US Department of Commerce released last Friday show.
Kong Putheara, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, said export growth had been hindered by a high number of workers strikes in the country’s garment sector.
“The protests affect the production line. Protests cause a delay in production, which is bad for exports too,” he said.
Putheara said continuing strikes have a negative impact on foreign investment in Cambodia, particularly when competition from Myanmar was on the rise.
Cheat Kheamra, a senior officer at GMAC, said there have been worries of a slowdown of orders largely caused by strikes.
“They [buyers] have started to limit their orders, fearing the production will not be made on time,” he said.
Kheamra added that political instability since the July elections had also unnerved buyers, who were losing confidence in Cambodia’s factories and sending their orders elsewhere.
In the latest of a string of violent clashes, last Tuesday an innocent bystander was shot dead after police opened fire on hundreds of protesting garment workers’ on their way to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house to air their grievances.
Kong Athit, vice-president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) was quick to defend workers.
“The increase of export products does not depend on garment workers alone,” he said.
Athit said improving workers rights and negotiating a “win-win solution together” would lead to greater productivity.
Cambodian Economic Association president, Srey Chanthy, said the slight increase in exports would not have a serious impact on Cambodia’s economy.
“The US economy has been slowing down in recent years, causing a decrease in clothing demand and household spending,” he said, adding that this has been offset by Cambodian export growth to other markets like Europe.
The US is Cambodia’s largest export destination. The majority of exports are garments and footwear.
The value of imports from the US decreased by 3.8 per cent, from $180 million in the first nine months of 2012 to $173 million in the same period this year.
According to data from the Ministry of Commerce, total exports worldwide of Cambodian products is valued at $5.2 billion in the first nine months of this year, a 26 per cent increase compared to $4.1 billion in the same period last year.