The volume of imports and exports handled at the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ) totalled $2.069 billion in the first 10 months of 2022, marking a 17.09 per cent rise year-on-year from $1.767 billion, according to statistics posted by the operator at the weekend.

Last month was below-average, accounting for 8.0 per cent of the 10-month total, representing a year-on-year drop of roughly one-sixth from October 2021, albeit a slight uptick over September.

Sihanoukville Special Economy Zone Co Ltd, the operator of the 11.13sq km special economic zone (SEZ) – the largest by size and occupancy – tends not to provide separate figures for imports and exports.

Speaking to The Post on November 15, Hong Vanak, director of International Economics at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, drew attention to the fact that import-export activity at the SSEZ has been slower in the second half than in the first, despite the year-on-year increases.

Data provided by the operator indicate that the monthly average volume of imports and exports handled at the industrial zone fell by 24 per cent from $229 million in the first half to $174 million in the July-October period.

Vanak reasoned that since its imports comprise mostly raw materials and other inputs used in the production of goods for export, a decline in exports means a decline in imports.

He attributed the recent weak performance of SSEZ’s imports and exports to sluggish demand on international markets for the industrial zone’s products, which he linked to economic uncertainty, heightened oil prices and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

“When the global situation is unstable, foreign orders will not increase, because people will avoid unnecessary expenses, and stick to food and daily necessities,” he said.

Vanak predicted that Cambodian exports in general would trend up even more, supported by increasing international interest in locally-made products, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the bilateral free trade agreements (FTA) penned with China and South Korea.

Preah Sihanouk provincial deputy governor Long Dimanche commented that more investors are turning to the coastal southwestern province, drawn in by the Kingdom’s sole deep-water port, the favourable conditions created by the new Law on Investment, and an abundance of young workers.

He voiced optimism that economic activity in Sihanoukville and elsewhere in the Kingdom would pick up again as China’s Covid-19 restrictions ease and with enough clarity in the global economic landscape.

Dimanche shared that the SSEZ’s tenants are mostly Chinese, Thai and Korean businesses, and churn out garments, electrical appliances, furniture and travel goods.

In 2021, the value of imports and exports passing through the SSEZ were to the tune of $2.234 billion, a 42.75 per cent surge from $1.565 billion a year earlier, which witnessed a 26.52 per cent jump over $1.237 billion in 2019, according to the operator.

General Department of Customs and Excise statistics show that, in the first 10 months of 2022, Cambodia’s international trade totalled $44.565 billion, up by 14.91 per cent year-on-year from $38.782 billion.

Cambodia’s exports came in at $18.748 billion, up 19.25 per cent year-on-year, and imports $25.818 billion, up 11.96 per cent. The Kingdom’s trade deficit for the January-October period shrank 3.65 per cent on a yearly basis to $7.070 billion.