Cambodia’s export to RCEP members rises sharply despite weakening global demand

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia on Saturday reported a sharp rise in its exports to Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) member countries last year despite a slowdown in global demand.

The kingdom shipped 8.17 billion U.S. dollars worth of products to the RCEP member countries in 2023, an increase of 28.8 percent from a year earlier, according to a General Department of Customs and Excise report.

Its top five export destinations under the regional mega-trade pact are , China, Japan, Thailand, and Singapore, the report added.

The RCEP agreement comprises 15 Asia-Pacific countries including 10 ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member states, Brunei, Cambodia, , Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, and their five trading partners, namely China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Cambodian Ministry of Commerce's Secretary of State and spokesperson Penn Sovicheat said the RCEP, entering into force on Jan. 1, 2022, is a catalyst for long-term export growth and a magnet to attract more foreign direct investment inflows to the kingdom.

“The RCEP is a huge market for Cambodia, accounting for 34.6 percent of our 23.6 billion U.S. dollars total export in 2023,” he told Xinhua.

He added that Cambodia's total trade volume with RCEP members exceeded 29.4 billion dollars last year, representing over 61 percent of the country's 48 billion dollars in total trade.

The spokesperson said that despite rising protectionism and weakening global demand, the RCEP has promoted regional trade and investment cooperation, bringing enormous benefits to all member countries.

“It has helped the member countries to boost faster post-pandemic recovery and sustainable long-term economic growth, contributing to enhancing regional peace, stability, harmony, development and prosperity,” Sovicheat said.

According to the spokesperson, this world's largest trade pact, together with other bilateral free trade agreements, will help Cambodia graduate from the least developed country status by 2027.

It will also help the Southeast Asian nation to achieve its goals of becoming an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income nation by 2050, he added.

The RCEP is a modern, comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial agreement, covering trade in goods and services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, dispute settlement, e-commerce, competition, and intellectual property, among others.

The trade pact will ultimately eliminate 90 percent of tariffs on imports among its signatories over the next 20 years.

Economist Ky Sereyvath, director-general of the Institute of China Studies at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the RCEP has provided a great opportunity for Cambodia to diversify its exports.

“With preferential tariffs provided by the RCEP, our made-in-Cambodia products have gained more competitiveness, allowing manufacturers to offer greater benefits to their clients,” he told Xinhua.

“This pact has served as a driving force for regional and global economic growth, and I believe that it will become a new center of gravity for global trade in the future,” he added.

Thong Mengdavid, a research supervisor at the Asian Vision Institute, a Phnom Penh-based independent think tank, said the RCEP has continued to deepen regional economic and trade cooperation, injecting vigorous impetus into the region's economic growth in the long run.

“The successful story of the RCEP has acted as a role model for free trade, international cooperation, and multilateralism against the backdrop of protectionism and unilateralism,” he told Xinhua.

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