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Food imports see big jump

CAMBODIA’S total food and beverage imports jumped 28 percent year-on-year through June to US$74 million, as domestic demand continued to outpace the Kingdom’s production capacity.

The demand comes as Cambodia’s economy regains momentum following the global financial crisis, said officials at the Ministry of Commerce, who released the figures late last week.

Now the country is looking to regional partners such as Vietnam, Thailand, China and South Korea for supply, officials said.

“We have to import these kinds of products to supply the market because our production is not enough to meet the rising demand,” said Kong Putheara, director of the Ministry of Commerce’s Department of Statistics, on Friday.

However, the inflation affecting these partners is also being imported, and he said the Kingdom had few options to combat the problem in the short term.

The National Bank of Cambodia this month decided against raising banks’ reserve requirements as a way to fight inflation, which the central bank projected would be 6.5 percent in 2011.

The International Monetary Fund expects the same level of inflation this year.

NBC officials said that while it would take action to keep steady the Cambodian riel’s exchange rate with the dollar, it also expected greater agricultural production in the Kingdom to help alleviate some inflationary pressure.

However, officials noted the obstacles preventing the Kingdom from filling that gap.

In addition to Cambodia’s limited production capacity, Kong Putheara claimed the World Trade Organisation’s strict rules for member countries against restricting imports also largely prevented the Kingdom from fighting that imported inflation.

Still, he called on consumers to buy Cambodian-made products to support domestic producers as first step toward economic independence.

“This is not nationalism, but I think it would be best for the economy if people bought domestic products before they bought imported ones,” he said.

Kang Chandararot, an independent economist at the Cambodia Institute of Development Study, said the food-inflation problem highlighted reasons why development of the Kingdom’s production capacity was crucial.

“To both boost our economy and curb external pressures on it, we need to start producing as many good as we can here in Cambodia,” he said, adding that the Kingdom’s use of the devalued American dollar has also helped to push up inflation here.

He said the government has been working toward that goal, though improvements are still needed in areas such as infrastructure, intra-country investment and financial regimes.

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