Cambodia's exports to member countries of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) exceeded $5.8 billion in the first three quarters of 2023, marking a 23.59% surge from the $4.7 billion recorded over the same period last year.

The total trade volume amounted to $21.81 billion during the period, indicating a 9.36% dip from the previous year’s $24.07 billion, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

The RCEP, an ASEAN initiative, is currently the largest free trade agreement (FTA) globally, encompassing 15 nations. These include the 10 ASEAN member states and five other key Indo-Pacific countries: Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

The RCEP came into effect on January 1, 2022.

The report indicates that Cambodia’s imports from RCEP countries reached $16 billion during the first nine months of 2023, a decrease of 17.36% from $19.36 billion over the same period last year.

The change signifies a trade deficit of $10.19 billion with RCEP nations, an improvement from 2022’s deficit of $14.66 billion.

Cambodia’s principal export destinations within the RCEP framework were Vietnam ($2.04 billion, up 30.68%), China ($1.06 billion, up 18.27%) and Japan ($885.74 million, down 1.33%).

Dominant import partners included China ($8.04 billion, up 1.77%), Vietnam ($2.73 billion, down 10.99%) and Thailand ($2.17 billion, decreasing by 27.05%).

Hong Vanak, an economics researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, highlighted the expansion of Cambodia’s exports amid global economic and political uncertainties, attributing it to the nation’s enhanced production capacity and product quality.

He said several factors, including political and geographical stability, Cambodia’s deeper integration into global and regional economies, reformed investment laws, diversified export markets, improved transport infrastructure and special economic zones, have catalysed this growth.

He further expressed confidence in the country’s readiness to fulfil increasing international demands and allure foreign investors.

“Given what Cambodia offers, I foresee an uptrend in our international trade from 2024 onwards. Concurrently, the inflow of foreign tourists is likely to rise,” he added.

Commerce ministry secretary of state and spokesman Penn Sovicheat acknowledged the challenging global environment due to geopolitical tensions and the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He remains positive about the impact of RCEP membership on Cambodia’s export growth, however.

“The RCEP has significantly facilitated Cambodia’s access to international markets,” he told The Post.

He emphasised the benefits Cambodia reaps from the agreement, including preferential tariffs on a variety of goods, technology transfers, skill development and employment opportunities spurred by foreign direct investment (FDI).

RCEP nations collectively represent about 2.2 billion people, or 30% of the global population, contributing to $26.2 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP), which constitutes 30% of the worldwide GDP. These member countries account for approximately 28% of global trade, according to the ministry.