The volume of goods traded between Cambodia and the UK totalled $234.933 million in the first four months of 2023, down 17.56 per cent year-on-year, as the two kingdoms held their inaugural “Joint Trade and Investment Forum” (JTIF) on May 26 to further shape and strengthen their trade and investment relations.

Customs (GDCE) figures show that Cambodian exports to and imports from the UK amounted to $209.630 million and $25.303 million, respectively, down 20.34 per cent and up 16.1 per cent year-on-year, narrowing the former’s trade surplus – the amount by which a country’s exports exceed its imports – with the latter by 23.63 per cent on an annual basis to $184.327 million.

The UK was Cambodia’s 12th biggest trading partner for the period, representing 1.550 per cent, 2.898 per cent and 0.319 per cent of the latter’s international trade ($15.161 billion), exports ($7.234B) and imports ($7.927B), respectively, according to provisional GDCE data compiled in “International Merchandise Trade Statistics” bulletins.

Hong Vanak, director of International Economics at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, told The Post on May 28 that practically every country has seen declines in international trade as a result of the global economic slowdown, especially that among developed countries.

Broad economic disruptions have reduced consumer spending in virtually every non-food category, he said.

The UK, one of the largest buyers of Cambodian goods – notably garments, travel bags, footwear and bicycles – has not been exempt from the downturn, he said, dismissing the decline in trade as a fairly minor albeit noticeable by-product of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict and other geopolitical tensions, and not particularly alarming.

“I am confident that the strong government-to-government ties between the two countries and the UK’s historical commitments to providing preferential tariffs on goods imported from Cambodia will stimulate trade between the two nations, causing it to soar even higher in the future,” Vanak said.

He claimed that agricultural and textile-related goods have considerable potential for export to the UK. Notable products that the UK brings to Cambodia include vehicles, machinery, electrical and electronic equipment, and pharmaceuticals, he added.

Last month alone, bilateral trade came to $53.05 million, down 26.24 per cent year-on-year and down 11.9 per cent month-on-month, according to the GDCE bulletins.

Cambodian exports were $45.285 million, down 31.10 per cent year-on-year and down 18.84 per cent month-on-month, while imports were $7.766 million, up 25.4 per cent year-on-year and up 77 per cent month-on-month. The monthly trade surplus clocked in at $37.52 million, down 36.98 per cent year-on-year and down 27.0 per cent month-on-month.

The UK was Cambodia’s ninth largest export destination and number-20 import source last month, representing 1.357 per cent, 2.458 per cent and 0.376 per cent of the Kingdom’s international trade ($3.909B), exports ($1.842B) and imports ($2.067B), respectively, GDCE numbers show.

Meanwhile, the first JTIF was held at the Ministry of Commerce on May 26, where commerce minister Pan Sorasak and UK ambassador Dominic Williams signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to underpin the new forum, according to the embassy.

Inaugural forum

“The JTIF brought together leaders of the UK and Cambodian governments, policymakers and industry leaders,” the embassy said in a social media post. “They discussed policies and trade schemes, including the Developing Countries Trading Schemes, Cambodia’s new investment laws, and the UK’s prioritisation of green and resilient growth.”

Commerce minister Pan Sorasak (right) and British ambassador hold up signed copies of the MoU at the inaugural Joint Trade and Investment Forum (JTIF) on May 26. MOC

The forum allowed British Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia (BritCham) and the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) to thoroughly explore key commercial prospects, obstacles and challenges in both kingdoms, it added.

According to a separate statement from the ministry, Sorasak lauded the JTIF as a constructive move in fostering trade cooperation between the two countries and ensuring its sustainability, which could serve to improve the business and investment climate as well as support economic diversification in Cambodia.

The statement noted that the MoU aims to expand bilateral trade, especially by encouraging the export of high-potential Cambodian goods to the UK market, such as agricultural and industrial products, and by raising British investment in Cambodia.

Apparel, vehicles, other goodies

In 2022, the Cambodia-UK trade was worth $977.439 million, up 23.94 per cent on the previous year, according to the GDCE.

Cambodia’s exports to and imports from the UK were to the tune of $886.424 million and $91.016 million, respectively, up 21.12 per cent and up 60.2 per cent, expanding the former’s trade surplus with the latter by 17.83 per cent on a yearly basis to $795.408 million.

No breakdown was immediately available of the particular items traded between Cambodia and the UK at any point during the 2022-2023 period.

However, Trading Economics statistics show that, out of Cambodia’s $731.84 million worth of goods exports to the UK in 2021, “articles of apparel, knit or crocheted” accounted for the lion’s share at $458.95 million (versus $460.10M in 2020), followed by “articles of apparel, not knit or crocheted” ($100.78M; vs $183.72M), “footwear, gaiters and the like” ($66.73M; vs $68.50M), and “vehicles other than railway, tramway” ($58.73M; vs $80.52M).

The next eight items were: “electrical, electronic equipment” ($10.72M; vs $9.37M in 2020), “articles of leather, animal gut, harness, travel goods” ($8.68M; vs $5.05M), “plastics” ($7.39M; vs $3.73M), “cereals” ($7.28M; vs $9.80M), “other made textile articles, sets, worn clothing” ($5.77M; vs $4.60M), “toys, games, sports requisites” ($2.74M; vs $1.63M), “stone, plaster, cement, asbestos, mica or similar materials” ($658.62K; vs $311.68K), and “headgear” ($655.79K; vs $943.91K).

For reference, the 12 categories respectively correspond to chapters 61, 62, 64, 87, 85, 42, 39, 10, 63, 95, 68 and 65 of the Harmonised System (HS) of Tariff Nomenclature.

Similarly, out of Cambodia’s $56.81 million worth of goods imports from the UK in 2021, “vehicles other than railway, tramway” made up the most with $30.65 million (versus $28.77M in 2020), followed by “residues, wastes of food industry, animal fodder” ($7.96M; vs $2.57M), “pharmaceutical products” ($4.11M; vs $2.66M), and “machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers” ($3.09M; vs $5.27M).

The next eight items were: “beverages, spirits and vinegar” ($2.19M; vs $2.91M in 2020), “miscellaneous edible preparations” ($1.38M; vs $1.45M), “electrical, electronic equipment” ($1.18M; vs $2.12M), “paper and paperboard, articles of pulp, paper and board” ($994.46K; vs $512.12K), “tanning, dyeing extracts, tannins, derivatives, pigments” ($867.23K; vs $562.26K), “optical, photo, technical, medical apparatus” ($680.05K; vs $629.65K), “plastics” ($565.67K; vs $769.94K), and “manmade staple fibres” ($525.70K; vs $267.94K).

These 12 categories respectively correspond to chapters 87, 23, 30, 84, 22, 21, 85, 48, 32, 90, 39 and 55 of the HS.

Trading Economics notes that its figures are sourced from the UN Commodity Trade Statistics Database (UN COMTRADE).