Sand accounts for increase despite ban on exports from Kingdom, official says
BILATERAL trade between Cambodia and Singapore increased 84 percent in 2009, driven by sand exports from the Kingdom, a Ministry of Commerce official (MoC) said on Monday, despite a government ban on sand dredging for export since May last year.
MoC figures show Cambodia-Singapore bilateral trade hit US$1.18 billion in 2009, up from $640.4 million in 2008.
Singapore’s exports to Cambodia rose 41 percent to $740.9 million from $523.95 million, while Cambodia’s exports to Singapore shot up 275 percent to $438.2 million from $117 million.
MoC Secretary of State Chan Nora said sand was the likely source of the significant increase in Cambodia’s exports.
“I think the growth of our exports to Singapore last year was probably because of the export of sand,” he said.
He declined to comment, however, on the ban on sand exports issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen last year, saying it should be referred to the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy or the Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology.
Hun Sen conditionally banned sand exports in May last year and reiterated the order in July, citing the “destructive impact” on the country’s river and coastal ecosystems.
Spokespeople from neither the Industry Ministry or the Ministry of Water Resources could be contacted for comment on Monday.
Chan Nora said another factor behind the growth was the city-state’s re-export practices – bringing raw materials to Cambodia from Singapore for refinement, and returning them to Singapore.
Cambodia Chamber of Commerce President Nguon Meng Tech agreed re-exporting was a key factor, saying Cambodia benefited from Singapore’s financial strength.
“Singapore is very strong in management and especially good at seeking out foreign markets,” he said.
“I did not see any Singaporean factories close during the crisis last year while others shut down – that’s why our trade rose.” He said most Singaporean investment in the country was through the garment industry, and that Cambodia can rely on the island state more to take its products to foreign markets.
Apart from Singapore, almost all bilateral trade between Cambodia and its Asian neighbours fell during 2009 compared to 2008. Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and South Korea all saw trade with the Kingdom decrease. Laos rose 4 percent.
The MoC said Singapore’s main exports to the Kingdom last year included unwrought gold, diesel, petrol, alcohol, non-industrial diamonds and electronic goods, while Cambodia’s main exports were natural sand, semi-manufactured and unwrought gold, cigarettes, silk, silica and quartz sand, and woven materials, including clothes.
Environmental watchdog Global Witness released a report on May 5 citing Singapore’s appetite for sand as fuelling a “corrupt and environmentally disastrous” industry that had damaged Cambodian fish stocks and threatened long-term damage to its riverine and marine ecosystems.
It estimated about 796,000 tonnes of sand was removed each month from Koh Kong province, the epicentre of a sand trade worth an estimated $248 million annually in Singapore.