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Elusive trade target with Vietnam renewed

Workers carry sacks filled with robusta coffee beans for export at a company warehouse and factory in Hanoi, Vietnam. Bloomberg
Workers carry sacks filled with robusta coffee beans for export at a company warehouse and factory in Hanoi, Vietnam. Bloomberg

Elusive trade target with Vietnam renewed

Cambodia and Vietnam released a joint statement yesterday saying that the two countries would review their existing policies in order to achieve the $5 billion in bilateral trade they had hoped would be realised by 2015.

The announcement came as the newly-appointed Vietnamese president, Tran Dai Quang, wrapped up his first state visit to Phnom Penh.

Trade between the Southeast Asian neighbours slipped last year after steadily increasing since 2010. According to data from the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh, the volume of trade rose from $1.8 billion in 2010 to $3.3 billion in 2014, but declined to $3.02 billion last year.

The embassy data show trade between the two nations reached $848.7 million during the first quarter this year, down 11 per cent compared to the same period in 2015. Vietnamese exports to Cambodia, which accounted for $534.5 million of the total figure, declined by 12 per cent year-on-year during the first three months of 2016.

Tran Manh Tiep, second secretary of the Vietnamese Embassy, could not explain the recent declines, which nullify a joint commitment announced in June 2012 to boost bilateral trade to $5 billion by 2015.

Nevertheless, Vietnam remains one of Cambodia’s major trade partners. The Kingdom’s main imports include plasticware, instant noodles and spare electronic parts. Chief exports include rubber, wood and tobacco.

Seung Sophari, spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce, said Cambodia has recently been trying to strengthen trade with Asian heavyweight economies such as South Korea, China, Japan and Thailand.

She suggested that the decline in Cambodia-Vietnam trade could be accounted for by a consumer shift toward higher-quality goods from these other Asian countries.

“When Vietnamese producers diversify their products for export and strengthen quality, I think trade values will increase again,” she said.

Lim Heng, vice president of Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, noted that for bilateral to reach $5 billion, Vietnam’s Chamber of Commerce would need to build a relationship with Cambodia’s private sector. However, he said so far that has proven to be difficult.

“The Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce is a state-owned body, unlike Cambodia’s private sector-led chamber,” he said. “They rarely talk and work with us so we don’t have a good relationship with them.”

Cambodian and Vietnamese officials yesterday renewed their bilateral trade goal, but left the timeline open, agreeing in a joint statement to achieve the $5 billion “in some year later.

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