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Garment industry remains wary despite export growth

Exports up 7.24 percent in Q1, but remained below 2008 level

GARMENT and apparel exports have increased 7.24 percent for the first quarter of 2010 compared to the same period last year, according to Ministry of Commerce statistics, but remain below the pre-crisis levels of the first quarter in 2008.

Ministry of Commerce (MoC) figures, released late last week, value Cambodia’s garment and apparel exports for the 2010 first quarter at US$671 million, up from $626 million for the same quarter last year.

According to a country by country breakdown, exports to the US market went up 4.13 percent – from $395 million to $411 million – while the EU markets saw a 7.32 percent increase, and other foreign markets were up 20.12 percent.

Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) Secretary General Ken Loo was restrained in his response to the new figures on Sunday, emphasising that the increase was from “the very low level of 2009”.

“It is a sign of recovery, but it’s not up to the value of the pre-crisis level,” he said.

Total garment exports dramatically fell more than 20 percent to $626 million in the first quarter of last year, from $784 million for the same period in 2008, according to MoC data.

But MoC Secretary of State Ok Boung was more optimistic, saying he believed the sector would continue to recover off the back of the global financial crisis thanks primarily to an improved economic outlook in the US – the biggest market for Cambodia’s garment industry.

“There’s no doubt that this increase shows, as I’ve predicted since last year, that the sector will no longer be depressed, because we can see the US economy recovering, which is in turn increasing orders and demand for our cloth,” he said.

“However, we still cannot compare this amount to the same quarter of 2008 when [exports] were at their peak,” he cautioned.

Cambodian Economic Association President Chan Sophal held a similar view to Ok Boung’s, remaining optimistic that exports would continue to rise off the back of the revival in US and increased global spending.

“I believe it should continue to increase, with the [latest figures] emphasising the recovery of consumer spending and confidence in the US and global market,” he said.

However, he also acknowledged that the recent statistics for the 2010 quarter are measured from a low base, and that the dollar figures for exports are not so favourable when compared to the same quarter of 2008.

Overall, the 2009 calendar year saw Cambodia’s garment and apparel exports sliced by 15.46 percent compared to 2008.

In late November 2009, MoC minster Cham Prasidh led a delegation from the garment industry to the US to negotiate how the American government could further open or favour market access for Cambodia.

However, Ok Boung said that to date Cambodia has not heard any news from the US government on those discussions.

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