Cambodian exports of “plastics and articles thereof” in the first quarter of 2023 – ended March 31 – were valued at $76.059 million, plunging by nearly 38.06 per cent year-on-year from $122.790 million and sliding almost 10.3 per cent quarter-on-quarter from $84.76 million, according to provisional Customs (GDCE) statistics.

This category of items, corresponding to Chapter 39 of the Harmonised System (HS) of Tariff Nomenclature, accounted for 1.411 per cent of the $5.392 billion value of the Kingdom’s total exports over the three months – compared to 2.148 per cent and $5.717 billion in the first quarter of 2022, and 1.622 per cent and $5.225 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022.

In March alone, the Kingdom exported $29.738 millions worth, down nearly 24.45 per cent from $39.361 million in March 2022, down almost 20.5 per cent from $37.384 million in December 2022, but up 29.2 per cent from $23.014 million in January 2023, and up 27.6 per cent from $23.307 million in February 2023.

Speaking to The Post on May 2, Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) vice-president Lim Heng commented that a confluence of public health, political and economic crises in recent years have led to and continue to trigger slowdowns in international trade practically everywhere and in most types of goods.

Although the severity of the global Covid-19 pandemic has let up, the Russo-Ukrainian conflict that broke out early last year continues to exert downward pressure on international trade, he said.

Heng ascribed the drop in Chapter 39 exports to declining global demand, as economic uncertainty pushes consumers to save by cutting out unnecessary purchases.

“Overall, since the end of 2022, Cambodia’s international trade has seen fewer positive results, especially in terms of the export of high-potential products [like textile-related items] – to major markets,” he said.

Notices issued by the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) indicate that a series of plastics manufacturing and processing investment projects have been given the all-clear as of late.

In a late-January interview with The Post, Royal Academy of Cambodia economics researcher Ky Sereyvath remarked that in the current milieu of global economic challenges, international goods flows have seen marked declines across most categories, save for certain essential items such as foods.

“Improvements in the global political atmosphere and conclusions to ongoing armed conflicts will better allow international trade to recover. What’s happened with Cambodian exports of plastics – and articles thereof – is not an isolated case.

“When an economy is in a slump, people will reduce their spending, so demand and orders will go down accordingly,” he said.

In 2022, Cambodia exported “plastics and articles thereof” to the tune of $395.513 million, marking a 3.72 per cent drop over $410.794 million in 2021, ending a run of annual increases since at least 2015, which saw exports reach $70.763 million, according to GDCE data.

This category of items accounted for 1.759 per cent of the Kingdom’s total $22.483 billion worth of exports in 2022 – compared to 2.127 per cent a year earlier – also ending a series of annual increases since at least 2015, which witnessed a rate of just 0.832 per cent.

Neither the corresponding figures prior to 2015, nor a breakdown by export destination were immediately available.

However, the latest Trading Economics data show that the US accounted for the lion’s share at $356.73 million – or 86.84 per cent – of the Kingdom’s total $410.79 million worth of Chapter 39 exports for 2021, up 29.8 per cent on an annual basis from $274.92 million, which represented 89.0 per cent of the corresponding 2020 total of $308.9 million.