Cambodia imported $244.754 million worth of “iron and steel” in the first eight months of 2022, up 19.97 per cent from the $204.018 million recorded over the same time in 2021, according to Customs.

Construction pundits have attributed this rise to increases in prices for the materials on source markets, as well as the fairly unimpeded construction progress made on locally-owned housing developments.

This category of items, corresponding to Chapter 72 of the harmonised tariff schedule, accounted for 1.12 per cent of the value of the Kingdom’s total imports over the period, at $21.764 billion, data from the General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia (GDCE) show.

In August alone, iron and steel imports amounted to $29.494 million, up 18.76 per cent from the $24.835 million recorded in the same month of 2021.

For comparison, the June and July figures were $35.920 million and $29.495 million, respectively, up 21.3 per cent and 20.6 per cent from $29.613 million and $24.464 million in the corresponding months of 2021. The GDCE did not reveal any tonnage figures.

Cambodia Constructors Association general manager Chiv Sivpheng linked the uptick in imports to the general headway made on housing projects owned by Cambodians, as well as the on-year jumps in the prices that importers paid for iron and steel during the eight-month period.

However, he said, the pace of construction has slowed at a number of sites due to the government’s tighter quality standards and technical regulations, while remaining sluggish at larger projects – or those typically associated with foreign investors.

Regardless, he argued that the Cambodian construction sector would recover as the risks from Covid-19 wane and the global economic situation improves.

Huy Vanna, secretary-general of advisory firm Housing Development Association of Cambodia (HDAC), recently commented that the long-term nature of construction projects – some of which he noted can take more than five years to complete – could mean a snail-paced recovery for the industry.

He also ascribed the increase in the value of iron and steel imports seen in the January-August period to rising prices on the international market.

Vanna echoed Sivpheng comment that construction on larger projects remains subdued, adding that “for landed housing projects owned by local investors, it’s not a problem”.

Still, the Cambodian steelmaking market continues to entice investors, such as the Chinese-owned Hong De Sheng (Cambodia) Steel Co Ltd, whose $16.7 million steelworks in Kampong Speu province went online in early December 2020 amid a global surge in Covid-19 cases. In its initial stage, the factory was said to have an annual production capacity of 500,000 tonnes.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction says it approved a total of 2,000 construction projects in the first half of 2022, representing a total area of 2.860 million square metres and capital investment of $1.206 billion.