Cambodian “iron and steel” imports in the first 11 months of 2022 clocked in at $327.412 million, rising by 22.6 per cent year-on-year from $267.156 million, according to Customs.

This category of items, corresponding to Chapter 72 of the harmonised tariff schedule, accounted for 1.180 per cent of the $27.747 billion value of the Kingdom’s total imports over the 11 months, General Department of Customs and Excise (GDCE) statistics show.

Last month alone, the Kingdom imported $25.544 millions worth, up 15.8 per cent from $22.067 million in November 2021, but down 15.1 per cent from $30.090 million in October 2022.

The GDCE did not reveal any tonnage figures. To clarify, these imports do not include “articles of iron or steel”, which instead fall under Chapter 73 of the tariff schedule.

Housing Development Association of Cambodia (HDAC) secretary-general Huy Vanna told The Post that despite remarkable improvements in the Covid-19 situation, virtually no construction work is happening at the more recently approved projects, and many developments remain abandoned – especially in Sihanoukville – indicating little if any tangible signs of an overall revival of the sector.

“I’ve yet to see a pick-up in construction activities on new projects, even taking into account the housing developments owned by local investors,” he said.

Vanna expects solid rebounds in the sector as well as in imports of construction materials, as global economic growth returns to a more moderate pace, and as tourism and general investment flows increase.

He credited the on-year rise in the value of iron and steel imports to elevated prices for the materials, adding that the bulk used for construction in Cambodia is shipped in from Vietnam, China and Thailand.

For reference, Trading Economics data shows that, last year, Cambodia imported “iron and steel” worth a total of $292.34 million, of which $124.4 million was from Vietnam, $134.04 million from China, and $6.41 million from Thailand.

Global Real Estate Association president Sam Soknoeun predicted that the slowdown in the real estate and construction sector will extend into 2023 due to Covid-19 uncertainty and geopolitical tensions between global powers, which have been undermining investment, especially in long-term and capital-intensive ventures.

“The current slump in the real estate and construction markets is happening in every country in the world, and recovery won’t be as quick as in some sectors,” he said.

Still, the prospect of steelmaking in Cambodia to keep imports down and capitalise on burgeoning domestic demand has piqued the interest of many investors, such as the Chinese-owned Hong De Sheng (Cambodia) Steel Co Ltd, whose $16.7 million steelworks in Kampong Speu province opened in early December 2020. In its initial stage, the factory was said to have an annual production capacity of 500,000 tonnes.

In January-November 2022, 3,827 construction projects were approved nationwide, with total registered capital of $2.635 billion – down by 98 developments and 49.42 per cent in terms of value compared to the same time last year, according to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction.