Hong Kong trade officials recently spent three days in Cambodia looking at ways the two might boost bilateral trade, though Cambodian officials remain skeptical trade could grow substantially any time soon.
The delegation of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, a special trade agency of Hong Kong’s government, was seeking to broaden its markets in the wake of the global financial downturn.
Trade between Cambodian and Hong Kong was $618 million in 2008, with only $10 million of that coming from Cambodian exports. Cambodia is ranked as Hong Kong’s No. 42 trade partner, according to figures from the Hong Kong trade council.
Tina Phan, who is in charge of mainland Southeast Asia for the council, said the relatively small trade between Hong Kong and Cambodia meant a lot of room to improve business ties, especially as US and European markets have narrowed.
“Because of the financial crisis, we have to go out more and find more new things, new markets,” Phan told VOA Khmer. “And the Cambodian market is one of the markets that we are looking into now. We want to promote trade between Cambodia and Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong, an island territory of 7 million people, exports more than 30 types of goods to Cambodia, mainly garment products and telecom equipment, while importing some footwear and children’s clothing from Cambodia.
Phan said she had invited some of Cambodia’s private enterprises to an exhibition in Hong Kong in October and November.
The Hong Kong trade delegation met with officials from the Council for the Development of Cambodia, Chamber of Commerce, banks and craft associations.
However, officials remained dubious over increased trade.
“Hong Kong has not much interest in our market,” said Keo Nimet, international relations manager for the Chamber of Commerce. “Before, we showed our market’s potential and handed out business books for Hong Kong visitors. But we have never seen anyone come to our market since.”
Disparities between the two markets were the “main challenges” for increasing trade, he said. For example, Cambodia can export garments, but Hong Kong already claims top standards as a clothing exporter.
Hong Kong has shown interest in importing rice from Cambodia, but there has been no agreement, said Cheav Pha, head of market development and management at the Ministry of Commerce.
Hong Kong only wants to import unique products they are unable to produce, “such as products made from silk,” said Men Sineoun, president of the Artisan Association of Cambodia, which exports some $10,000 in silk products to Hong Kong annually.
Hong Kong has very few projects in Cambodia, investing only $4 million in garment factories from January to August this year, compared to $332 million by China as a whole. In that same period, investment from Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and South Korea ranged between $100 million and $200 million.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong is the seventh-largest investor in Vietnam, with annual trade between the two in 2008 estimated at $4 billion, according to Hong Kong government figures.
Vietnam is better industrialized, Keo Nimet said, creating a better base where investors can find resources at hand without importing from another country. Still, he said, Cambodian trade could be increased with Hong Kong in the next five or six years if such cooperation were pushed by China’s national government.