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Cambodian exports to US surpass $1B in Q1 for first time

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A bag and suitcase shop near the Central Market in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Cambodian exports to US surpass $1B in Q1 for first time

Cambodian exports to the US have seen a strong expansion this year, surpassing $1 billion in the first quarter for the first time, thanks largely to a boost in travel goods exports.

Cambodian-made suitcases and handbags have been provided access to the US market under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme since July 2016. Access has contributed significantly to increasing the value of the Kingdom’s exports to the country.

According to the latest trade data from the US government, Cambodian exports from January to March amounted to $1.12 billion – up 24 per cent from $903.6 million during the same period last year.

Bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to $1.24 billion in the first three months of this year. Of this, Cambodian imports from the US amounted to $122 million.

The US’ goods trade deficit with Cambodia was $998 million during the first three months of this year.

US embassy spokesman Arend C Zwartjes told The Post on Tuesday that the US remains Cambodia’s largest single export market, and Cambodia is a beneficiary of duty-free market access under the US’ GSP programme.

He said exports under GSP more than doubled to over $720 million last year, led by travel goods.

“Our embassy worked hard to have travel goods added to the list of GSP-eligible products, something that happened in 2016."

“That action helped Cambodian exports in that one category of goods alone to increase from about $50 million in 2016 to just under $400 million last year, as well as bring in many millions of dollars in investment,” he said.

According to Zwartjes, top Cambodian exports to the US include textiles and footwear. Top US exports to Cambodia are vehicles, animal feed and machinery.

Last year, Cambodia was the US’ 57th largest supplier of imports and its 104th largest export market. The value of Cambodian exports to the US totalled $3.8 billion last year, while US exports to the Kingdom were valued at $447 million.

Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia president Van Sou Ieng on Tuesday echoed Zwartjes’ comments that the huge increase in the export of Cambodian-made travel goods to the US was the main factor behind the significant rise in Cambodian exports to that country.

Sou Ieng said after Cambodia was listed as a beneficiary of duty-free market access under GSP in July 2016, the value of eligible items exported had increased more than 10-fold within the two-year period between 2016 and last year.

He said the number of factories producing travel goods has greatly increased to around 80 today.

“The export of travel goods from Cambodia to the US will continue to increase this year at a growth rate of least 30 to 40 per cent. With the results early in the year, I think the export of goods from Cambodia to the US will continue to rise strongly for the whole year,” he said.

However, there are uncertainties in that the US could review its preferential tariff arrangements with Cambodia. Zwartjes said the US remains concerned about perceived human rights issues in the Kingdom and the alleged weakening of democratic institutions.

He said the US Congress, in particular, has made it clear that they share these concerns and are continuing to introduce legislation that, if passed, would include a number of punitive steps against Cambodia.

“The proposed legislation now being considered by Congress includes provisions that would require [US President Donald Trump’s] Administration to review GSP benefits."

“But the Administration has not taken a position on these bills, and we do not know how likely they are to go forward,” Zwartjes told The Post.

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