The three largest exporters to Cambodia – mainland China, Vietnam and Thailand – accounted for 60.94 per cent of the Kingdom’s total merchandise imports last year, at $18.245 billion, which was up 11.99 per cent over 2021, according to the General Department of Customs and Excise.

Cambodia’s total imports grew by 4.32 per cent on a yearly basis to $29.942 billion in 2022, with mainland China representing the lion’s share at $10.446 billion or 34.89 per cent, up 7.86 per cent year-on-year, followed by Vietnam ($3.967 billion; 13.25% share; up 26.20%) and Thailand ($3.833 billion; 12.80% share; up 10.66%).

In December alone, total imports dipped by 33.34 per cent on a yearly basis to $2.195 billion, with mainland China again ranked first at $975.790 million or a 44.46 per cent share, down by 11.57 per cent year-on-year, followed by Vietnam ($349.887 million; 15.94% share; up 3.29%) and Thailand ($290.481 million; 13.24% share; down 25.35%).

Rounding out the list of top 20 exporters to Cambodia for 2022 were: Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the US, India, Laos, Australia, the UK, Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Italy and France, according to the General Department of Customs.

Of note, Cambodian imports from the southern African country of Botswana saw the largest year-on-year growth in 2022, at 393.6 per cent to $64.079 million, compared to $12.981 million in 2021.

Although GDCE figures for individual commodities were not immediately available, data from online portal Trading Economics show that all official Cambodian imports from Botswana in 2021 were in the “pearls, precious stones, metals, coins” category, corresponding to Chapter 71 of the harmonised tariff schedule.

Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) vice-president Lim Heng commented to The Post on January 29 that, as a developing country, the Kingdom requires relatively large volumes of imported raw materials to meet domestic demand as well as to process into export products.

He put down Cambodia’s reliance on the big three exporters to proximity, good diplomatic relations, and the generally acceptable quality and prices for their products.

Heng predicted that the three markets would remain key suppliers of raw materials and other essential goods for the long-term, stating that Cambodia’s bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with China would increase two-way export flows going forward.

Major imports from these markets include Chinese textiles and other raw materials for export processing, daily necessities, electronics and electrical appliances, fruits, vegetables, foods and beverages, pharmaceuticals and construction materials, he said.

Hong Vanak, director of International Economics at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, similarly remarked that demand for raw materials and consumer goods is quite high in the Kingdom, adding that export-oriented production accounts for the “majority” of imports.

Still, with GDCE statistics indicating a collective 15.02 per cent on-year expansion in Cambodia’s trade deficit with the three markets, Vanak called for additional public-private efforts to promote the cultivation, production and processing of more local goods to boost supply and reduce imports.

“Improving the productivity of SMEs [small- and medium-sized enterprises] is an absolute must and could have a slew of positive effects for Cambodia’s overall economic growth in the future,” he said.