Cambodian goods exports to Singapore reached $223.843 million in the first four months of 2023, up 345.7 per cent year-on-year from $50.224 million and up 1,087 per cent half-on-half (compared to July-October 2022) from $18.9 million, according to provisional Customs (GDCE) data compiled in “International Merchandise Trade Statistics” bulletins.

The volume of merchandise traded between the two countries in January-April 2023 was to the tune of $480.789 million, down 60.00 per cent year-on-year from $1.202 billion and down 55.80 per cent half-on-half from $1.088 billion.

At the same time, the Kingdom imported $256.946 million worth of goods from Singapore, down 77.69 per cent year-on-year from $1.152 billion and down 75.96 per cent half-on-half from $1.069 billion.

Cambodia recorded a trade deficit – the amount by which a country’s imports exceed its exports – of $33.103 million with the city-state for the four-month period, narrowing by 96.99 per cent year-on-year from $1.102 billion as well as by nearly 96.85 per cent half-on-half from $1.050 billion.

Singapore was Cambodia’s sixth biggest trading partner for the period – after mainland China, the US, Vietnam, Thailand and Japan – representing 3.171 per cent, 3.094 per cent and 3.241 per cent of the Kingdom’s international trade ($15.161 billion), exports ($7.234B) and imports ($7.927B), respectively, GDCE figures indicate.

Royal Academy of Cambodia economist Hong Vanak commented to The Post on June 7 that the growth of FDI (foreign direct investment) inflows could steadily increase Cambodian exports in practically every group of commodities.

The Kingdom’s exports to the US, Canada and Europe have taken a hit from the global economic downturn, making the uptick in shipments to Singapore crucial, to make up for lost revenues, he said.

Vanak stressed that the Kingdom has historically been a significant buyer of merchandise from the highly-industrialised city-state, which he also described as a top maritime centre and key trading hub.

The economist proposed starting negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with ASEAN’s smallest nation, arguing that in addition to their remarkable two-way trade volume, a considerable amount of Cambodian merchandise is transshipped through the Port of Singapore.

“A bilateral FTA between the two countries, in my opinion, would boost Cambodian exports to Singapore and other international markets,” he said.

An FTA is an international treaty between two or more economies that aims to lessen or do away with specific import and export barriers while generally preserving safety, security, health and other legitimate regulatory objectives. Such a pact can also enable or encourage stronger economic ties among members in areas such as investment and intellectual property protection.

Nonetheless, Vanak called on Cambodia to expand its export portfolio’s quantity, quality and diversity to better serve the needs of all nations.

According to him, high-potential Cambodian exports to Singapore comprise agricultural, agro-industrial and textile-linked goods, while notable imports from the city-state include electrical and electronic equipment, construction materials and pharmaceutical products.

Third largest investor

In April alone, the Cambodia-Singapore merchandise trade volume came to $272.13 million, up 21.73 per cent from $223.6 million in April 2022 (year-on-year), up 145.8 per cent from $110.70 million in October 2022 (half-on-half), up 393.1 per cent from $55.190 million in January 2023 (quarter-on-quarter), and up

228.5 per cent from $82.83 million in March 2023 (month-on-month), according to the GDCE.

Cambodian exports reached $187.418 million, up 62.162-fold year-on-year from $3.015 million, up 45.9-fold half-on-half from $4.08 million, up 51-fold quarter-on-quarter from $3.643 million, and up 6.498-fold month-on-month from $28.843 million.

Imports stood at $84.712 million, down 61.59 per cent year-on-year from $220.540 million, and down 20.5 per cent half-on-half from $106.617 million, but up 64.34 per cent quarter-on-quarter from $51.547 million, and up 56.9 per cent month-on-month from $53.992 million.

Singapore was Cambodia’s third largest export destination and number-five import source in April, representing 6.962 per cent, 10.174 per cent and 4.099 per cent of the Kingdom’s international trade ($3.909B), exports ($1.842B) and imports ($2.067B), respectively, GDCE numbers show.

Meanwhile, at a bilateral meeting on May 18, 2022 in Bali, Indonesia, Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak and his Singaporean counterpart Gan Kim Yong reaffirmed the two countries’ commitment to step up cooperation to bolster bilateral trade.

According to the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows into the Kingdom between August 5, 1994, when the old Law on Investment was enacted, and December 31, 2021 totalled 168.8 trillion riel ($41.0 billion), rising by 11.2 per cent from the nearly 152 trillion riel recorded by end-2020.

Singapore was the third largest investor in the Kingdom with $2.7 billion, or a 6.5 per cent market share, after the Greater China region ($18.0 billion; 43.9 per cent) and South Korea ($4.9 billion; 11.9 per cent). The Greater China region encompasses mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

In 2022, the amount of merchandise exchanged between Cambodia and Singapore totalled $3.323 billion, down 36.31 per cent from $5.217 billion in the previous year, according to the GDCE. The city-state was the Kingdom’s fifth largest trading partner last year, after mainland China, the US, Vietnam and Thailand.

Cambodia’s exports to and imports from Singapore were to the tune of $92.575 million and $3.230 billion, respectively, down 22.79 per cent and down 36.62 per cent, narrowing the former’s trade deficit with the latter by 36.96 per cent on a yearly basis to $3.138 billion.

The breakdown

No breakdown was immediately available of the particular items traded between Cambodia and Singapore at any point during the 2022-2023 period.

However, Trading Economics statistics show that, out of Cambodia’s $119.9 million worth of goods exports to Singapore in 2021 (down from $2.62 billion in 2020), “pearls, precious stones, metals, coins” accounted for the lion’s share at $66.94 million (versus $2.41B in 2020), followed by “rubbers” ($9.10M; vs $4.20M), “articles of apparel, knit or crocheted” ($7.61M; vs $6.45M), and “electrical, electronic equipment” ($7.14M; vs $3.29M).

The next eight items were: “knitted or crocheted fabric” ($5.83M; vs $2.38M in 2020), “machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers” ($5.39M; vs $3.11M), “cereals” ($4.34M; vs $9.06M), “articles of apparel, not knit or crocheted” ($4.11M; vs $44.89M), “footwear, gaiters and the like” ($3.51M; vs $2.78M), “articles of leather, animal gut, harness, travel goods” ($1.35M; vs $1.24M), “tobacco and manufactured tobacco substitutes” ($1.15M; vs $1.07M), and “other made textile articles, sets, worn clothing” ($544.16K; vs $1.77M).

For reference, the 12 categories respectively correspond to chapters 71, 40, 61, 85, 60, 84, 10, 62, 64, 42, 24 and 63 of the Harmonised System (HS) of Tariff Nomenclature.

Similarly, out of Cambodia’s $5.1 billion worth of goods imports from Singapore in 2021 (up from $984.24 million in 2020), “pearls, precious stones, metals, coins” accounted for the most at $4.59 billion (versus $503.30M in 2020), followed by “mineral fuels, oils, distillation products” ($197.61M; vs $229.46M), “paper and paperboard, articles of pulp, paper and board” ($106.18M; vs $73.36M), and “miscellaneous edible preparations” ($26.84M; vs $31.26M).

The next eight items were: “vehicles other than railway, tramway” ($26.30M; vs $22.99M in 2020), “plastics” ($21.77M; vs $14.69M), “essential oils, perfumes, cosmetics, toiletries” ($21.38M; vs $13.55M), “machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers” ($16.79M; vs $17.35M), “tanning, dyeing extracts, tannins, derivatives, pigments” ($13.82M; vs $9.91M), “organic chemicals” ($12.98M; vs $7.98M), “electrical, electronic equipment” ($11.92M; vs $9.62M), and “cereal, flour, starch, milk preparations and products” ($8.07M; vs $6.40M).

These 12 categories respectively correspond to chapters 71, 27, 48, 21, 87, 39, 33, 84, 32, 29, 85 and 19 of the HS.

Of note, statistical discrepancies and asymmetries in trade figures are common between different sources. Trading Economics sources its figures from the UN Commodity Trade Statistics Database (UN COMTRADE).