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Rough year for Thai imports

A worker stacks bags of imported Thai cement in Phnom Penh’s Mean Chey district in 2013.
A worker stacks bags of imported Thai cement in Phnom Penh’s Mean Chey district in 2013. Hong Menea

Rough year for Thai imports

An uncharacteristic slump in imports from Thailand since the start of the year is the result of lower oil prices and fierce competition from cheaper Chinese and Vietnamese products, representatives from the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh said yesterday.

According to the embassy’s trade data, the value of exports to Cambodia totalled $1.4 billion from January to April, a decline of nearly 20 per cent compared to the same period a year earlier. Meanwhile, Cambodian exports to Thailand climbed 12 per cent during the period, totalling $350 million during the first four months of the year.

Jiranan Wongmonkol, commercial counsellor of the Thai embassy, attributed the smaller bill on Thai products to a variety of factors, including oil prices. She noted that while the volume of oil shipments from Thailand to Cambodia has remained stable, their value has decreased in line with global oil prices.

She also cited the rising supply of Chinese and Vietnamese construction materials in the local market, which has taken up part of the market share that Thailand used to dominate.

“Exports of cement and steel from Thailand are decreasing because there are more imports from China and Vietnam instead,” Jiranan said, adding that Thai imports have also faced competition from the Kingdom’s increased domestic cement production capabilities.

According to embassy data, iron and steel imports from Thailand fell to $26 million during the first four months of the year, from $38 million during the same period a year earlier. Meanwhile, cement imports softened to $53 million, from $67 million.

Ly Chhuong, vice-president of Cambodia Constructor Association, said that while he did not have figures on how much construction material was being imported from China, the shift was significant.

“Chinese construction materials such as steel and glass are of higher quality and are becoming more common in Cambodian construction projects,” he said.

“In terms of price, Thai products are facing difficulties when competing with those from China.”

Wary of Thailand’s deteriorating market share in the Kingdom, Thai officials are looking for new marketing strategies to differentiate their products from a flood of cheaper Asian imports.

“We want to boost our exports to Cambodia and we have a strategy of trying to sell new kinds of products that have not been seen in the market before,” Jiranan said.

“To do so, the embassy will hold an exhibition promoting Thai products later this month in a bid to increase brand and product awareness.”

Thailand is one of Cambodia’s largest trading partners, accounting for 40 per cent of all imports last year. Last year, bilateral trade between the two countries reached $5.6 billion, a 10 per cent increase over 2014, and was heavily slanted in favour of Thailand.

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