Cambodian goods exports to the US totalled $2.450 billion in the first four months of the year, down 16.20 per cent year-on-year and down 17.49 per cent half-on-half (compared to July-October 2022), according to provisional Customs (GDCE) data.

However, on the bright side, the equivalent figure for April alone is roughly one-tenth higher than the corresponding numbers recorded in the first month of the previous two quarters – that is, October 2022 and January 2023.

The volume of merchandise traded between the two countries in January-April 2023 was to the tune of $2.525 billion, down 16.62 per cent year-on-year and down 17.85 per cent half-on-half. At the same time, the Kingdom imported $75.004 million worth of goods from the US, down 28.14 per cent year-on-year and down 28.11 per cent half-on-half.

Cambodia’s trade surplus with the US for the four-month period stood at $2.375 billion, narrowing by 15.76 per cent year-on-year and by 17.10 per cent half-on-half.

The US was Cambodia’s second biggest trading partner and top export destination for the period, representing 16.65 per cent and 33.87 per cent of the Kingdom’s international trade ($15.161 billion) and exports ($7.234B), respectively, GDCE figures indicate.

Explaining the relatively low trade figures seen in recent months, Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) vice-president Lim Heng remarked that the US economy is slowing under the weight of domestic inflation, geopolitical conflicts among major powers, and the Ukraine conflict.

People tend to cut back on non-essential spending when the economy is struggling, which is why US purchase orders are declining, he reasoned.

“Even with preferential tariffs from the US on goods originating from Cambodia, overseas orders will undoubtedly fall due to the American economy’s poor performance,” he said.

Silver linings emerge

According to Heng, the bulk of Cambodian exports to the US comprise garments, footwear, bags and travel goods, solar panels, and agricultural products, while notable imports include vehicles, machinery, electronics, and medical equipment.

Last month alone, the Cambodia-US merchandise trade volume came to $644.14 million, down 19.60 per cent year-on-year, up 8.67 per cent half-on-half, up 10.83 per cent quarter-on-quarter, and down 9.54 per cent month-on-month, according to provisional GDCE statistics.

Cambodian exports reached $626.921 million, down 18.97 per cent year-on-year, up 9.81 per cent half-on-half, up 11.46 per cent quarter-on-quarter, and down 9.58 per cent month-on-month.

Imports, on the other hand, closed the month at $17.215 million, down 37.4 per cent year-on-year, down 21.1 per cent half-on-half, down 8.2 per cent quarter-on-quarter, and down 8.1 per cent month-on-month.

The Kingdom’s trade surplus with the US in April came to $609.71 million, down 18.30 per cent year-on-year, up 11.0 per cent half-on-half, up 12.14 per cent quarter-on-quarter, and down 9.62 per cent month-on-month.

The US was Cambodia’s second biggest trading partner, top export destination, and number-14 import source last month, representing 16.48 per cent, 34.03 per cent and 0.83 per cent of the Kingdom’s international trade ($3.909B), exports ($1.842B) and imports ($2.067B), respectively, GDCE numbers show.

US solar tariffs loom

Meanwhile, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam (CMTV) may soon have to pay tariffs as high as 254 per cent on the export of solar panels and modules to the US, following claims that mainland Chinese manufacturers could be circumventing Washington’s duties by assembling related equipment in these four Southeast Asian countries, according to reports.

The US Senate on May 3 approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to rescind President Joe Biden’s two-year “pause of antidumping and countervailing duties on solar products” from the CMTV nations, according to the American Action Forum (AAF).

The resolution will now be forwarded to President Joe Biden, who is expected to veto it and prolong the tariff moratorium that he imposed, which is set to remain in effect until early June 2024. A potential veto could, however, be overridden by a subsequent two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate, respectively the lower and upper chambers of Congress.

The GDCE reported that Cambodia exported a total of 54,319.83 tonnes of solar panels valued at $273.87 million in 2021, an increase of “more than 27 per cent” on 2020 in terms of tonnage. This means an average per-kilogramme value of $5.04.

Exports to the US clocked in at 53,188.19 tonnes – up “more than 33 per cent” on a yearly basis – to the tune of $256.88 million that year, which accounted for 97.92 per cent and 93.8 per cent of the total tonnage and value, respectively. The average per-kg value was $4.83.

In 2022, the Cambodia-US goods trade value totalled $9.281 billion, up 18.59 per cent against the previous year. Cambodian exports and imports were $8.969 billion and $312.484 million, respectively, up 19.74 per cent and down 7.09 per cent versus 2021, expanding the Kingdom’s trade surplus with the US by 21.00 per cent on a yearly basis to $8.656 billion.