Cambodian goods exports to Singapore reached $343.413 million in the first five months of 2023, up 508.3 per cent year-on-year from $56.451 million and up 1,313 per cent half-on-half from $24.31 million, tipping the trade balance for the January-May period in the Kingdom’s favour, provisional Customs (GDCE) data compiled in “International Merchandise Trade Statistics” bulletins show.

The volume of merchandise traded between the two ASEAN countries in January-May 2023 was to the tune of $658.980 million, down 61.76 per cent year-on-year from $1.723 billion and down 44.02 per cent half-on-half from $1.177 billion.

At the same time, the Kingdom imported $315.567 million worth of goods from Singapore, down 81.07 per cent year-on-year from $1.667 billion and down 72.63 per cent half-on-half from $1.153 billion.

Cambodia recorded a trade surplus – the amount by which a country’s exports exceed its imports – of $27.847 million with the city-state for the five-month period, compared to deficits of $1.610 billion in January-May 2022 and $1.128 million in July-November 2022.

Singapore was Cambodia’s sixth biggest trading partner for the period – after mainland China ($5.076B), the US ($3.292B), Vietnam ($2.871B), Thailand ($1.705B) and Japan ($699.322M) – representing 3.416 per cent, 3.739 per cent and 3.122 per cent of the Kingdom’s international trade ($19.293B), exports ($9.183B) and imports ($10.109B), respectively, GDCE figures show.

Royal Academy of Cambodia economist Hong Vanak commented to The Post on June 28 that Cambodia’s export potential is “actively” being pushed by its growing production capacity and the development of new merchandise.

He sees Singapore as a crucial market for Cambodia, reasoning that the city-state not only buys Cambodian goods to fulfil domestic demand, but also processes and packages some of those products for re-export.

Vanak expects Cambodia and Singapore to exchange more merchandise going forward, considering that both ASEAN countries are among the 15 members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest trade pact.

“As a result of the combined efforts of the public and private sectors, Cambodia now offers a wide range of products to satisfy the demands of all buyers. Product diversification is on the right track and moving forward with vigour,” he asserted, adding that the uptick in exports to Singapore “confirms the strength of Cambodia’s economy”.

However, the economist contends that in order to cut imports and increase the value of exports, Cambodia must work harder to process its own resources.

Export comeback?

According to the GDCE, in May alone, Cambodian exports to Singapore hit $119.570 million, up 1,819 per cent year-on-year from $6.228 million, up 21.9-fold half-on-half from $5.45 million, up 30-fold quarter-on-quarter from $3.94 million, but down 36.20 per cent month-on-month from $187.418 million.

April was the best export month since September 2020 ($344.169M), which registered the fifth highest amount on record for the 2015-2023 period, behind July 2020 ($601.866M), August 2020 ($544.968M), May 2020 ($462.470M) and June 2020 ($398.813M).

Clearly, 2020 was an outstanding year for Cambodian exports to Singapore. Although the GDCE bulletins do not break down country-specific export figures by product type, data from the website Trading Economics shows that 92 per cent of the Kingdom’s Singapore-bound exports that year were in the “pearls, precious stones, metals, coins” category, which corresponds to Chapter 71 of the harmonised tariff schedule.

Imports, meanwhile, stood at $58.621 million, down 88.61 per cent year-on-year from $514.887 million, down 30.15 per cent half-on-half from $83.923 million, down 12.1 per cent quarter-on-quarter from $66.694 million, and down 30.80 per cent month-on-month from $84.712 million, according to the GDCE.

In May, Singapore was Cambodia’s fourth largest export destination and number-six import source, representing 4.313 per cent, 6.134 per cent and 2.686 per cent of the Kingdom’s international trade ($4.132B), exports ($1.949B) and imports ($2.182B), respectively, GDCE numbers show.

In a recent interview, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Penn Sovicheat remarked that market demand and trade patterns are generally quite dynamic. Despite this, he suggested that, in general, most Cambodian exports to Singapore are agricultural products.

He also mentioned a few noteworthy imports from the city-state, including fuel, asphalt rubber, industrial chemicals, electrical equipment and appliances, and beverages.

“Trading resembles market prices; on some days, sales may be through the roof, while on other days, they may be lower. Not everything has to be labelled a problem, nor is every change a concern,” Sovicheat stressed.

Third largest investor

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), up 11.2 per cent from the nearly 152 trillion riel recorded by end-2020.

Singapore was the third largest investor in the Kingdom at $2.7 billion, comprising 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.

GDCE figures show that, last year, 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. The city-state was the Kingdom’s fifth largest trading partner last year, after mainland China ($11.686B), the US ($9.281B), Vietnam ($6.136B) and Thailand ($4.664B).

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.

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