Cambodia earned $1.395 billion from the export of “articles of apparel and clothing accessories, knitted or crocheted” in the first four months of 2023, down 28.49 per cent year-on-year and down 40.80 per cent half-on-half (compared to July-October 2022), according to provisional Customs (GDCE) data compiled in “International Merchandise Trade Statistics” bulletins.

This category of items, corresponding to Chapter 61 of the Harmonised System (HS) of Tariff Nomenclature, accounted for 19.28 per cent of the $7.234 billion value of the Kingdom’s total merchandise exports over the four months – compared to 25.64 per cent and $7.606 billion in January-April 2022, as well as 31.97 per cent and $7.368 billion in July-October 2022.

While these and associated statistics in current times of elevated inflation, weakened demand, economic turbulence and other global challenges might appear fairly grim, there may be some solace in the fact that the Kingdom's Chapter 61 export levels are still roughly one-fifth higher than they were during their Covid-19 lows.

In an interview with The Post on May 22, Royal Academy of Cambodia economics researcher Hong Vanak attributed the declines in Chapter 61 exports to economic hardships brought on by the Russo-Ukrainian conflict in the US and Europe, two major markets for Cambodian apparel.

He remarked that the Ukraine crisis has disrupted raw-material and energy supply chains across the world, pushing up production costs and fuelling inflation.

“Since supply and demand are the cornerstones of all international trade, Cambodia, as a supplier, would lose out on export earnings if orders decline,” he said. “The declines are being driven by people in our export destinations tightening their expenses.”

April declines

Last month alone, the Kingdom exported $347.692 million worth of “articles of apparel and clothing accessories, knitted or crocheted”, down 31.83 per cent from April 2022 (year-on-year), down 13.84 per cent from October 2022 (half-on-half), down 0.74 per cent from January 2023 (quarter-on-quarter), and down 6.13 per cent from March 2023 (month-on-month), according to the GDCE.

This monthly figure was down 57.36 per cent from the record $815.401 million registered in July 2022, as indicated by GDCE statistics for the 2015-2023 period. The next highest values on record for the aforementioned timeframe are $730.240 million (August 2019), $724.803 million (July 2016), $719.720 million (August 2018), and $708.607 million (July 2021).

But on the plus side, it was still 39.21 per cent higher than the $249.768 million posted for April 2020, the lowest number on record for 2015-2023, as Covid spread across the world. The next lowest values for the specified period are $297.434 million (April 2021), $303.570 million (May 2021), $316.825 million (March 2020), and $325.039 million (May 2020).

Chapter 61 items accounted for 18.87 per cent of the $1.842 billion value of the Kingdom’s total exports in April 2023 – compared to 26.99 per cent and $1.889 billion in April 2022, 27.10 per cent and $1.489 billion in October 2022, 22.34 per cent and $1.568 billion in January 2023, and 17.58 per cent and $2.107 billion in March 2023.

“Articles of apparel and clothing accessories, knitted or crocheted” was the top HS chapter-level export category for April, as has been the case since September 2020. In August 2020, Chapter 71, which is short-titled “pearls, precious stones, metals, coins”, came in first.

‘Not good at the moment’

Textile, Apparel, Footwear & Travel Goods Association of Cambodia (TAFTAC) deputy secretary-general Kaing Monika recently told The Post that the industry began experiencing year-over-year export declines in August, reversing a seven-month pattern of growth, due to global economic uncertainty, the turmoil in Ukraine, and a host of other challenges.

He mentioned that the garment sector’s top export destinations are, in order, the US, EU, Japan, Canada and the UK. “The situation in the EU is not good at the moment,” he stated.

Last year, Cambodia exported Chapter 61 items to the tune of $6.367 billion, marking an increase of 9.41 per cent compared to $5.819 billion in 2021, but a decrease of 3.26 per cent from the record $6.582 billion of 2018, according to GDCE data for the 2015-2023 period.