Garment exports to Japan almost doubled in the first half of this year compared with the first six months of 2008, providing a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy year for the key sector, Ministry of Commerce figures show.
In the six months to the end of June, the country bought $9.62 million worth of garments, up 98.13 percent from the $4.73 million it sourced from Cambodia in the first half of 2008, according to the official numbers.
Exports of textiles climbed 39 percent to almost $450,000, while shoe exports edged down 10 percent from $8.76 million to $7.87 million.
Officials said the uptick came as Japan reduced its dependence on garments sourced from China.
"We hope that as it reduces its purchases from China further, Japan will eye up more purchases of garment products from Cambodia," Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia External Relations Manager Kaing Monika said.
Japan bought $20 billion worth of garments from China in 2008, or about 84 percent of its total global purchases, dwarfing the value of its purchases from Cambodia, he said.
While the combined exports to Japan represented just $18 million of the $1.27 billion worth of the garments, shoes and textiles exported over the period to all countries, it bucked a downward trend across the sector that saw exports fall 18 percent in the first half of the year.
Exports to the United States, Cambodia's key market, were down 30 percent. Canada took 13 percent less by value, while European purchases were down 5 percent over the period.
Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers, said that Japan was still a small destination for Cambodian garment exports, but that it was an "attractive" market for the future
"I think that in the next two years, Japan can become the second-biggest market for Cambodia after the US because the Japanese government has good relations with Cambodia," he said.
Last year, Cambodia's exports of garment, footwear and textiles to the key US market were worth US$1.98 billion, or around 63 percent of the $3.15 billion total.
However, Kaing Monicka said Cambodia would be unlikely to overtake Bangladesh and Vietnam, the second- and third- biggest exporters of garments to Japan behind China.
A commerce ministry spokesperson who asked not to be named said a major Japanese buyer looked at investing between $45 million and $50 million in garment factories in Cambodia last year but instead decided to invest in Bangladesh.
The deal would have been worth more than $100 million annually in export orders, the official said.