Agricultural exports to China in the 14 quarters to June 30 amounted to 2.4 million tonnes, worth $1.942 billion, said a Chinese embassy report citing Cambodian agriculture ministry data, as the government’s new policies to boost productivity in the field and turn the Kingdom into a major exporter in the sector show positive results.

The embassy listed fresh bananas; milled rice; dried cassava, tapioca starch and cassava pulp; dried and fresh mangoes; cashew nuts; and cocoa powder as prime Cambodian agricultural exports to China over the 1,277-day period.

Speaking to The Post on July 28, Hun Lak, Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) board chairman and CEO of Rich Farm Asia Ltd, a company that grows and exports bananas and mangoes, emphasised the sheer size of the Chinese market and its importance as a buyer of Cambodian agricultural products.

This is due to, inter alia, China’s proximity to Cambodia compared to other big buyers such as the EU and US, as well as the “good” Sino-Cambodian relations in “all areas”, notably as exemplified by the bilateral and multilateral trade pacts in addition to the phytosanitary agreements shared between them, he explained.

“In the last decade, especially in the last two or three years, Cambodia’s agricultural exports to international markets have increased for all destinations, especially China,” Lak said.

He added that the launch of new government strategies has, to a meaningful extent, encouraged growers and investors to dip their feet in the market. “The diversification of cultivation, seed production, processing and marketing is also contributing significantly to the growth process of the agricultural sector in Cambodia,” he said.

However, Lak pointed out, the agricultural sector is confronted with two major challenges: high production costs and a lack of infrastructure, including irrigation and transportation systems, which undermines the Kingdom’s competitiveness on the global market.

Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) vice-president Lim Heng underscored that strong market relations with China have provided many economic benefits for the Kingdom, noting that the former is also a key supplier of raw materials to support the latter’s production profile.

“Cambodia’s agricultural exports to China have been progressively increasing and will continue to do so in the future, as there are more products currently awaiting Chinese approval for export,” he predicted, noting that China is an especially big buyer of milled rice, bananas and mangoes.

Aside from the import-export business, various other Cambodian sectors have seen considerable Chinese investment, Heng added.

In an online conversation on the Sino-Cambodian agricultural cooperative landscape hosted by Beijing on July 20, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon affirmed that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has brought “significant benefits” to Cambodia’s agricultural sector, propping up the rice, cassava, tropical fruits and rubber segments.

“Growth in agricultural exports to China has added value to agricultural products, through the establishment of agricultural processing parks, promotion of enhancements in agricultural technologies in Cambodia, construction of infrastructure, and addressing of financial resource issues through bilateral cooperation,” he said.

Bilateral trade between Cambodia and China rose by 19.675 per cent to $5.985827 billion in the first half of 2022 from $5.001737 billion a year ago, according to the General Department of Customs and Excise.

Exports to China contracted 9.232 per cent year-on-year to $611.542 million from $673.747 million, while imports edged up 24.175 per cent to $5.374285 billion from $4.327990 billion. Meanwhile, Cambodia’s trade deficit with China for the January-June period stood at $4.762744 billion, expanding by 30.335 per cent from $3.654243 billion on a yearly basis.