Cambodia’s steel and cement imports were worth $469.88 million last year, eroded by 28.66 per cent from $658.71 million in 2019, as the Covid-19 crisis put a halt to many construction projects, slowing activity to a crawl.

In 2020, the Kingdom bought $403.63 million worth of steel, down by 27.52 per cent year-on-year from $556.85 million in 2019, and cement to the tune of $66.25 million, down by 48.59 per cent on a yearly basis from $128.86 million, according to the Ministry of Commerce’s 2020 annual results report.

Cambodia Constructors Association general manager Chiv Sivpheng told The Post that the drop was directly linked to the spread of the novel coronavirus, which threw some construction projects off schedule.

The market will rebound once the epidemic is brought completely under control, he said, adding that investment in the construction sector will “surely recover”.

“When construction activity declines, [the flow of] all supporting materials in the construction sector will decline as well. Even capital investments for construction approved by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction in 2020 showed negative signs compared to 2019,” Sivpheng said.

On the other hand, cement imports, which Sivpheng pointed out nearly halved last year, were also driven down by a surge in domestic production, he noted.

Cambodia Cement Manufacturing Association secretary-general Puth Chandarith told The Post in February that the Kingdom’s five cement factories produced 7.9 million tonnes of finished product last year, marking a seven per cent gain from 2019 even with myriad construction projects put on hold by Covid-19 throughout the year.

“This seven per cent increase indicates that demand for cement remains high despite the fact that Covid-19 continues to spread,” he said, adding Cambodia’s cement factories are expected to produce even more this year, making a larger contribution to national economic development.

Growth in domestic cement production plays an increasingly important role in replacing imports, which are predominantly from Thailand, Vietnam and China, he said.

Suon Rithy, marketing manager at Vietnamese-based steel manufacturing and construction firm PEB Steel Buildings Co Ltd, said company sales last year were down slightly due to Covid concerns, which prompted some developers to halt construction.

Demand for iron and steel will rise once Covid is over, he said. “Growth in steel imports from abroad to Cambodia will jump, depending on when Covid-19 can be controlled.”

Capital investment in the Kingdom’s construction sector in the first nine months of 2020 fell 9.6 per cent to $5.868 billion from the $6.494 billion logged in the same period in 2019, the land ministry reported.