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Exports to China gain modest 8% in 2020

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A cargo container is lifted for shipping at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port last year. Hin Pisei

Exports to China gain modest 8% in 2020

Cambodia's total export value to China extended its winning streak last year, weathering supply chain disruptions due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Kingdom’s exports to the world’s second-largest economy – in nominal terms – surged more than eight per cent in value to $1.086 billion last year compared to the $1.004 billion posted in 2019, according to Ministry of Commerce figures.

By contrast, Cambodia’s imports from China slumped about 10 per cent in value to just slightly over $7 billion last year.

Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) vice-president Lim Heng stressed that Cambodia-China trade relations remained strong even as regional and global economies square off against disruptions in value chains.

“We won’t deny that there was some disruption in production and exports to China and other countries last year as a result of Covid-19. But, with the close relations between the two countries, we ratcheted up our exports to China again last year,” he said.

And buoying the prospects of future export growth is the bilateral Cambodia-China Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA) that was signed on October 12, which allows the Kingdom to export a wide range of goods to the Asian juggernaut at a zero per cent tariff rate.

Ministry undersecretary of state Pen Sovicheat told The Post last month that Cambodia is gauging about 50 commodities around which to craft a strategic approach on free trade agreements (FTAs) and make the most of bilateral deals with major trading partners.

He said a working group had been tasked with drafting a matrix of 50 items to dissect the technical and tariff barriers and preferential tariffs resulting from the CCFTA as a model to study for future trade deals.

The ministerial team has also been sizing up the Chinese market to determine what products it can absorb and what global market demand remains unfulfilled, he said.

“We have major agricultural commodities, including vegetables, fruits, grains, live animals, meat, et cetera, which are our targets for export to the Chinese market, as these products are taxed at zero through the CCFTA,” Sovicheat said.

He stressed the untapped potential of Cambodian goods on the international market, highlighting footwear, clothing and travel products.

CCC’s Heng said the materialisation of the CCFTA would further enhance the trade and investment flows from China to Cambodia this year.

“The FTA with China will be of service in our expansion of production capacity and foster more exports of agricultural products. We’ll get to see investment inflows from China into the food processing sector – and that bodes really well for the agricultural sector,” he said.

As China and the US remain enraptured in an ongoing trade war with no apparent end in sight, the Kingdom is well-positioned to capitalise on and redirect investment flows into Cambodian exports and away from the two economic powerhouses, he said.

And these exports could potentially end up in China and the US, he added.

“The way I see it, we’ll see added investment inflows from this year on, not only from China but also from other countries.

“Now, a great many countries – including Cambodia – have rolled out Covid-19 vaccination drives and this will be conducive for Cambodia to attract more investment,” Heng said.

The Kingdom’s total exports reached $16 billion last year, marking an increase of more than 14 per cent over 2019, Prime Minister Hun Sen told a live press briefing on December 29, citing preliminary data.

But bilateral trade value with other countries stood at $32 billion, he said. This is down from $36.7 billion in 2019, according to National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) figures.

The prime minister noted that exports of seven of the Kingdom’s key cash crops clocked in at $3.881 billion. Milled rice accounted for 675,000 tonnes worth $514 million, up 11.11 per cent year-on-year in value.

Shipments of cassava, cashew nuts, mango, yellow bananas and Pailin longan weighed in at seven million tonnes, 218,884 tonnes, 850,000 tonnes, 313 tonnes and 174 tonnes, respectively, valued at “more than $1 billion”, $288 million, $473 million, $551 million and $57 million. Meanwhile, peppercorn exports were worth $25 million, he said.

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