Bilateral trade between Cambodia and Thailand decreased 22 percent in 2009 compared to 2008, dropping to a total of $1.67 billion, according to trade statistics released by the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh.
During 2009, Cambodia exported only $77 million worth of goods to Thailand but imported $1.58 billion in Thai goods, according to the figures.
The drop in trade for 2009 followed several years of bilateral trade jumps when Cambodia’s economy was booming, such as a 51 percent increase from 2007 to 2008, and a 10.5 percent increase from 2006 to 2007. In 2005 overall trade with Thailand only reached $950 million.
“For this year, I hope that it will be increase again,” said Poonsak Khunudom, counselor in charge of commercial affairs at the Thai Embassy. “I think so because the trend of economy has increased a lot.”
He said the large gains in bilateral trade, before the economic crisis, show the strong relationship between the countries’ economies.
The two countries’ strained political ties have played a small role in the decrease, he added.
“For trade between both countries it’s not concerned too much about politics,” he said. “I think business is business.”
Bilateral trade between Vietnam and Cambodia dropped 26 percent to $1.175 billion in the first 11 months of 2009 compared to 2008, according to figures released last month by the Vietnamese Embassy.
Still, Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, said he expected that in the coming years Vietnam will have a competitive edge over Thailand for bilateral trade with Cambodia.
“I think it’s not very promising [for Thailand]. There is more of an integrated border between Cambodia and Vietnam which is a better route to China,” he said, adding that the statistics do not include unrecorded trade, such as that of agricultural commodities.
Mr Sophal added that politics played a role in the decline.
“Politics contributed to the decline but it’s not the only problem, the other factors are the reduction in consumption and trade in general because of the economic downturn,” he said.
Mao Thora, secretary of state for the Commerce Ministry, said by telephone that bad relations between the two countries had had an effect.
“Now the people feel afraid of each other to buy the products,” he said, declining to comment further.
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)