The bilateral merchandise trade between Cambodia and the UK reached $977.439 million in 2022, up by 23.9 per cent over a year earlier, as shown by Customs data, which has been chalked up to rising post-Covid-19 demand.

Last year, Cambodia’s exports to the UK came to $886.424 million, increasing by 21.1 per cent over 2021, while imports stood at $91.016 million, up by 60.2 per cent year-on-year, figures posted by the General Department of Customs and Excise (GDCE) show.

Cambodia’s trade surplus with the four-nation union grew by 17.8 per cent, from $675.033 million in 2021 to $795.408 million in 2022.

In an interview with The Post, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Penn Sovicheat commented that the increase in two-way trade reflects rising demand following Covid-related disruptions.

He said that the UK is emerging as an “important market” for Cambodia, underpinned by vows made by leaders of both countries to boost bilateral trade.

Cambodia “is looking to establish a two-way free trade agreement [FTA] with the country [the UK] in line with our ambitions to increase our bilateral trade and investment flows”, he confirmed.

“[Last year’s] increase in mutual trade underscores the close relations between our two countries.”

An FTA is an international treaty between two or more economies designed to reduce or eliminate certain barriers to imports and exports among them, generally while safeguarding safety, security, health and other legitimate regulatory objectives. Such a pact can also serve to facilitate and promote greater economic ties among signatories in areas such as investment and intellectual property protection.

Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak on January 25 met with newly-minted UK ambassador to discuss mutual post-Covid trade, investment and economic development matters, his ministry noted in a statement later that day.

The minister conveyed the Cambodian government’s appreciation for the export boosts and new jobs supported by the UK’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) for Cambodia and the other least developed countries (LDC), the statement said.

The GSP – in place since January 1, 2021 – has also provided support for Cambodian businessmen and investors as well as paved the way, in part, for a post-Covid economic recovery and future development that is inclusive, resilient and sustainable, it said.

The Cambodian side also sought to convince the UK delegation that the local food-processing and agro-industry sectors offer compelling investment opportunities, it added.

Cambodia Chamber of Commerce vice-president Lim Heng agreed that the post-Brexit GSP has substantially stimulated trade between the two kingdoms, in light of the EU’s August 12, 2020 partial withdrawal of its ‘Everything But Arms’ (EBA) scheme.

The withdrawal reportedly affects one-fifth or €1 billion ($1.09 billion) of Cambodia’s annual exports to the EU’s 27-nation bloc.

“This means that the UK remains a key trading partner, where we can promote exports for … [subsequent] shipment to other European countries,” Heng said, entertaining the thought of bilateral FTAs with other European nations to overcome perceived export shortfalls associated with the EBA’s withdrawal.

Either way, Cambodia would lose its EBA status if it graduates out of the LDC list, he stressed, adding that bilateral trade pacts “will become significant tools to boost our exports to the bloc”.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, notable Cambodian exports to the UK include apparel and footwear, bicycles, milled rice and other agricultural products; while major imports comprise vehicles and machinery.

Similarly, between the August 5, 1994 promulgation of the old Law on Investment and December 31, 2021, Cambodia recorded a cumulative total of 168.8 trillion riel ($41.0 billion) of foreign direct investment (FDI), marking an 11.2 per cent jump from end-2020, according to the National Bank of Cambodia. The UK accounted for a 3.4 per cent share, at $1.4 billion.