The value of trade exchange between Cambodia and other ASEAN member states dramatically skyrocketed last year, hitting $11.330 billion even with flight and border restrictions in full force amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

With neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam accounting for the largest slice of the trade pie, 2020’s total trade value figure marks a 22.42 per cent increase from the $9.254 billion posted in 2019, the Ministry of Commerce reported.

Cambodia exported $3.723 billion worth of merchandise last year, representing a sharp 186 per cent increase, and imported $7.607 billion, dipping slightly by 4.33 per cent.

Cambodia Chamber of Commerce vice-president Lim Heng pointed out that Cambodia’s imports and exports to Thailand and Vietnam had been fairly consistent over the years.

He said exports comprise chiefly agricultural products such as paddy, cassava, corn and rubber, and imports generally consist of foods and beverages, diverse consumer goods and construction materials.

“While the country [Cambodia] is increasingly able to process a broad range of consumer goods, capacity is still limited, triggering a need for more imports, especially from neighbouring countries.

“We encourage more internationals to invest in the processing industry and improve domestic production capacity and ensure the quality to compete with imports and step up export,” Heng said.

Hun Lak, CEO of milled-rice exporter Mekong Oryza Trading Co Ltd, told The Post that 2020’s statistics reflect regional leaders’ commitment to boost cross-border trade and goods exchange in the bloc.

“This augurs marvellously well for us to spur exports to our trading partners. Even so, I’d like to advocate for exporting finished products rather than raw materials, which cause us to lose out on a lot of value-added features and benefits,” he said.

On December 24, the General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia (GDCE) said all Cambodian importers and exporters can now apply for ASEAN Customs Declaration Documents (ACDD) electronically through the ASEAN Single Window (ASW).

The documents will be recognised by authorities of the 10 ASEAN member states, which brings the facilitation of trade and customs clearance in the region up a notch.

The GDCE said it will implement the “exchange of ACDD and ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement [ATIGA] e-Form D which are issued by the authorities of the ASEAN member states”.

Heng said the paperless system initiative marks significant progress for the cross-border trade promotion and trade facilitation that the private sector has been calling for.

The move “also contributes to reducing the bureaucracy and customs barriers. We have observed that the government has been modernised not only in customs and excise but also in taxation”, he said, noting that technology use has cut down on face-to-face interactions.

“We wish to see this kind of paperless system be applied not only among ASEAN member states but also with other countries,” Heng said.