Recently-appointed UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Cambodia and Laos Heather Wheeler is looking to expand trade and investment with Cambodia as the two countries celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations.

Wheeler, who is in Cambodia from September 24 to 26, is meeting Cambodian ministers, British investors in Cambodia and representatives from the local private sector to explore opportunities to strengthen commercial relationships, as well as support Cambodia’s sustainable development and transition from least developed country status.

An advisory by the UK government received by The Post on September 22, stated that it sees a “huge potential to deploy green investment and encourage Cambodian exports, under the UK’s Developing Country Trading Scheme, to increase Cambodia’s competitiveness and increase incomes for Cambodians”.

Wheeler, UK’s South Derbyshire Member of Parliament, first visited Cambodia, as the Minister for Asia Pacific at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, in 2020, she said, noting that a huge improvement in development has occurred since then.

“It is fantastic to come back in my new role as Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy, to strengthen the bilateral trade and investment relationship with Cambodia. This year is an exciting year for UK-Cambodia trade and investment.

“As we celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations, we have launched a range of new initiatives that would increase business in both directions, supporting jobs and growth in both our countries,” she mentioned.

The initiatives include the launching of an inaugural Joint Trade and Investment Forum, making Cambodia a priority of UK’s international British Investment Partnerships while encouraging “even more fantastic Cambodian producers to make use of the Developing Countries Trading Scheme (DCTS) to export to the UK”, she said.

She also joined Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Youth and Sport Hang Chuon Naron at the launch of the first-ever UK university branch campus in Cambodia, calling it a “truly historic moment and a sign of the UK’s ongoing commitment to Cambodia”.

“The UK values its growing trade and investment relationship with Cambodia. It recognises the centrality of the ASEAN region, as we seek to enhance economic ties across the Indo-Pacific region. We would continue to work closely with our Cambodian partners to promote trade opportunities between our countries,” Wheeler said.

Trade between the UK and Cambodia has recovered to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, reaching over $1 billion. Cambodian exports to the UK are predominantly made up of garments, footwear and bicycles. Cambodia qualifies for Comprehensive Preferences under the DCTS, which gives Cambodia duty-free, quota-free access to the UK market for 99 per cent of product lines.

The volume of merchandise traded between Cambodia and the UK amounted to $315 million in the first five months of 2023, down 12.6 per cent year-on-year from $360.4 million, the General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia stated.

Exports to the UK, the world’s fifth largest economy, were to the tune of $275 million, down 16.6 per cent year-on-year from $329.7 million while Cambodia imported $39.9 million in the January-May period, up 30.1 per cent year-on-year from $30.6 million. The UK was Cambodia’s 11th biggest trading partner for the period with China, US, Vietnam and Thailand in the lead.

Addressing the drop in bilateral trade, Royal Academy of Cambodia economist Hong Vanak noted that it was due to lower exports on the back of global economic turbulence that started in the second half of 2022, following the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

“International trade has decreased practically everywhere, especially for non-food commodities. Given that textiles and bicycles make up the majority of Cambodia’s exports to the UK, a decline in shipments there would not be an outlandish scenario.

“Non-agricultural exports are not exhibiting any promising sign at the moment,” Vanak said, calling for the local export community to broaden its trade mix to meet global demand.