Cambodian“iron and steel” imports in the first quarter of 2023 – ended March 31 – clocked in at $93.292 million, rising by nearly 10.95 per cent year-on-year from $84.085 million and close to 6.0 per cent quarter-on-quarter from $88.04 million, according to provisional Customs (GDCE) statistics.
This category of items, corresponding to Chapter 72 of the Harmonised System (HS) of Tariff Nomenclature, accounted for 1.592 per cent of the $5.860 billion value of the Kingdom’s total imports over the three months – compared to 1.129 per cent and $7.446 billion in the first quarter of 2022, and 1.425 per cent and $6.177 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022.
Last month alone, the Kingdom imported $34.213 millions worth, up 30.1 per cent from $26.289 million in March 2022, and up 24.6 per cent from $27.464 million in February 2023.
The GDCE did not reveal any tonnage figures. To clarify, these imports do not include “articles of iron or steel”, which instead fall under Chapter 73 of the tariff schedule.
Cambodia Constructors Association general manager and secretary Chiv Sivpheng told The Post on April 25 that the Kingdom’s construction sector has seen a measured recovery year-to-date, as substantiated by a pick-up in work on larger developments – which have largely been dormant in the past couple of years – although momentum remains below pre-Covid-19 levels.
This recovery, which follows a more than two-year-long pandemic lull in the market, has invigorated demand for iron, steel, and other construction materials, he said, predicting that iron and steel imports for the construction sector will keep increasing.
He attributed the construction comeback to post-Covid reopenings around the world and accompanying rise in cross-border travel, global economic growth, and the Cambodian government’s measures aimed at allowing stalled construction projects to move forward.
The Ministry of Economy and Finance earlier this month announced a package of measures to stabilise the construction and borey real estate sectors. Borey are private residential housing communities that are typically gated.
The measures aim to foster inclusive economic growth, promote employment sustainability and improve the livelihoods of low- and middle-income people, enabling them to purchase affordable housing.
The package comes in response to increased uncertainty surrounding the global economic and financial landscape.
These concerns include a slower post-Covid recovery than forecast, potential escalations in Russo-Ukrainian tensions, longer-than-expected tightening of monetary policy in developing countries, disruptions in supply chains, and deteriorations in financial conditions.
Huy Vanna, secretary-general of Housing Development Association of Cambodia (HDAC), commented that the residential segment is currently the most active in terms of construction work, with far less going on at large foreign-owned buildings.
Construction activity has improved, and although work has picked up at a number of projects that had been identified as stalled, progress has been steady, he said.
Although a recent surge in new infrastructure development projects has boosted demand for imported iron and steel, the construction and real estate sector will still need more time to regain its pre-2018 strength, he said.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, Cambodia imported $1.83 billion worth of major building materials in 2022 – marking a three per cent rise over the $1.77 billion logged in 2021 – accounting for 6.1 per cent of the $29.942 billion in total imports for the year.
Ministry statistics issued in conjunction with its annual meeting late in January showed that “iron and steel” imports swelled by 22 per cent to $477 million in 2022 from $391 million a year earlier.
On the other hand, the Kingdom bought “cement” and “other construction materials” from abroad to the tune of $25 million and $1.326 billion, respectively, representing year-on-year drops of 43 per cent and less than one per cent, from $44 million and $1.334 billion.
For comparison, the GDCE put last year’s “iron and steel” imports – or those corresponding to Chapter 72 of the HS – at $359.819 million, or up 23.08 per cent against 2021’s $292.339 million.
Trading Economics data similarly shows that, in 2021, Cambodia imported “iron and steel” worth a total of $292.34 million, with notable sources including mainland China ($134.04 million), Vietnam ($124.4 million), Laos ($10.14 million), Japan ($7.17 million) and Thailand ($6.41 million).
According to the finance ministry, the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction approved 4,275 construction investment projects in 2022 – down 28 projects from a year earlier – with total capital commitment of $2.968 billion, down 46.8 per cent on a yearly basis from $5.580 billion.
The housing segment represented 3,768 of the projects – up from 3,720 a year earlier – or an 88.14 per cent share of the total, up from 86.45 per cent in 2021, the finance ministry noted in its 2022 Socio-Economic Trends report, without providing the value of these developments.
In earlier Economic and Financial Statistics Bulletins, the ministry broke down the 2022 approvals by category: residential (3,768), commercial (228), industrial (184), public (58), tourism (36) and other (1). The corresponding 2021 figures were: residential (3,720), commercial (301), industrial (184), public (47), tourism (49) and other (2).