Cambodia has emerged as a major exporter of agricultural products to Vietnam in the past couple of years, registering a January-October 2022 total of $2.429 billion, according to the state-run Vietnamnet newspaper.

In 2012, Vietnam imported just $214.8 million worth of Cambodian agricultural products, comprising solely of “wood and wood products, corn, seafood, and rubber”, Vietnamnet reported, citing General Department of Vietnam Customs (GDVC) statistics.

However, 2021 “witnessed the rapid landing of Cambodian agricultural products into Vietnam”, when imports soared to $3.487 billion, marking 4.6-fold and 16.2-fold increases versus 2020 and 2012, respectively.

Among Vietnam’s main 2021 imports from Cambodia were “cashew nuts, wood and wood products, corn, soybeans, rubber, rice and vegetables”, it said, noting that rubber and cashew nuts accounted for the overwhelming majority, at $1.54 billion and $1.87 billion.

Citing the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Vietnamnet described the Kingdom as a strong competitor in the Southeast Asian agricultural market.

Supported by fertile soils and with overall rapidly improving quality and delectable tastes, Cambodian agricultural products are produced in relatively large quantities, with farmers using high-calibre seeds and exceptionally limited quantities of pesticides.

“Moreover, in the past few years, many Vietnamese businesses have invested in agricultural development in Cambodia as this country’s agricultural land fund is still abundant while land rental and labour cost is lower than in Vietnam.

“These firms bring their products back to Vietnam for sales, resulted in a sudden increase in Cambodian agricultural exports to the country.

“With Cambodia’s policy that emphasises production of high-quality agricultural goods, Cambodian products also become a competitor to Vietnamese goods in the international market. For example, although going behind Vietnam, Cambodia has quickly become the fourth largest rice supplier to Europe,” Vietnamnet said.

Cambodia Chamber of Commerce vice-president Lim Heng commented that the agricultural sector has been markedly shifting production from domestic supply to exports over the past decade, as food insecurity declined at the national level and the Kingdom emerged as a major agricultural exporter and partner in regional and global food sustainability efforts.

He noted that most Cambodian agricultural exports go to Vietnam and Thailand. “These two neighbouring countries remain important for our agricultural products given their proximity – transport is easy and shipping costs are low,” he said.

However, Heng is optimistic that Cambodia’s free trade agreements (FTA) with China, South Korea and other ASEAN countries, along with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), will appreciably reduce the agricultural sector’s reliance on bordering countries.

“But that doesn’t mean that we’ll stop exporting there – just that volumes may decrease.”

Cambodia earned nearly $3.070 billion from agricultural exports in the first 10 months last year year, preliminary data based on exporters’ invoices released by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries showed.

In January-October, milled-rice exports were to the tune of $435.408 million, weighing in at 509,249 tonnes, marking a 10.67-per-cent or 49,080-tonne year-on-year increase. By contrast, paddy exports amounted to $492.903 million, or 2.440 million tonnes – down 8.27 per cent or 219,878 tonnes.

Non-rice items clocked in at $2.142 billion or 4.670 million tonnes, up 10.63 per cent from 4.221 million tonnes, the ministry reported, listing major items as: tapioca starch and cassava chips and pulp; raw and processed cashew nuts; corn kernels; mung beans and soybeans; fresh bananas; fresh and dried mangoes; oil palm (in fresh fruit bunches, or FFB); peppercorns; tobacco; and “assorted vegetables”.