Major Trading Partners

Cambodia Table of Contents

Cambodia's major trading partners in the 1980s were Vietnam, the Soviet Union, and the countries of Eastern Europe, particularly the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Cambodia also claimed to have trade relations with Japan, one of several countries that had recognized Sihanouk's Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) and had imposed a trade embargo on the Phnom Penh government of the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK).


In February 1979, Cambodia signed a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with Vietnam that formally strengthened "solidarity and cooperation" between the two countries. As part of the Vietnamese aid program to Cambodia, a joint scheme of pairing Cambodian provinces with Vietnamese "sister provinces" was inaugurated in the same year for the purposes of economic cooperation and of technical, educational and cultural exchange. Cambodia's Rotanokiri Province, however, was linked with two neighboring Vietnamese provinces--Nghia Binh and Gia Lai-Cong Tum. In addition, the municipality of Phnom Penh was paired with two Vietnamese cities--Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Except for the municipalities of Hanoi and Haiphong, all of the Vietnamese participants in the scheme were located in former South Vietnam near their Cambodian counterparts.

The paired provinces were engaged mostly in barter trade the volume and value of which were unpublicized. Some observers argued that the system facilitated the integration of Cambodia's economy into Vietnam's. They pointed to the case of Batdambang Province, which sent tons of rice to its overpopulated and underfed Vietnamese sister province, Quang Nam-Da Nang, in exchange for bicycles and cement. In another case, Cambodia's Siemreab-Otdar Meanchey Province, supplied Vietnamese counterparts in Binh Tri Thien Province with unmilled rice and other agricultural products; in return, Vietnam supplied workers from Hue and its suburbs to help run the building industry in Siemreab-Otdar Meanchey This exchange came at the expense of Cambodian workers, who were assigned to find clay, while the new Vietnamese settlers produced bricks and tiles and made a good living. In Siemreab city, the Vietnamese also assumed control of the biggest fish-sauce factory.

According to a Cambodian official's evaluation of foreign cooperation, the pairing system worked successfully. The exchange of goods between the sister provinces and cities helped "meet the needs of the people promptly." Reportedly, the system also helped Cambodia fulfill all of its development targets for 1986. In February 1986, Cambodia and Vietnam signed an agreement to double their trade for that year.

Soviet Union

The first important trade agreement between Cambodia and the Soviet Union was signed in February 1983 and covered three years, 1983 through 1985. According to a Soviet source, Moscow's trade turnover with Cambodia during this period increased from 71.8 to 100.3 million rubles. Cambodian exports were mainly rubber, while imports from the Soviet Union consisted of refined petroleum products, textiles, and chemical fertilizers.

In July 1984, Cambodia--following the examples of Vietnam, Laos, and the East European countries--set up an Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific, and Technical Cooperation to manage its bilateral trade with the Soviet Union. The first session of the commission was held in January 1985. At its fourth meeting, in December 1987, protocols were signed regarding the restoration of rubber plantations and the development of some joint state enterprises.

On March 28, 1986, the two countries signed a five-year trade and aid agreement for the period 1986 to 1990 that would double the level of trade over that of the previous five-year period. The Soviet export package included tractors, fertilizer, petroleum products, machines, and raw materials. In exchange, Cambodia was to export raw rubber, timber, and plant-based industrial products such as lacquer. According to the Phnom Penh Domestic News Service, by the end of 1986 Cambodia had shipped 91 percent of its planned exports to the Soviet Union and had received 104 percent of its planned imports in return. During Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's visit to Moscow in July 1987, the Soviet press reported that the volume of goods sold by the Soviet Union to Cambodia in the 1986 to 1990 period would increase one-and-one-half times over the previous five-year period, whereas goods sold by Cambodia would increase more than four times. In November 1987, the two countries concluded trade-payments agreement for 1988. Under the terms of this agreement, the Soviet Union was to ship vehicles, tractor equipment, and fertilizer and would receive in exchange "traditional export goods" from Cambodia. Trade turnover between the two countries was projected to reach nearly 80 million rubles in 1988.

East Germany

In 1986 the total trade between Cambodia and East Germany reached about 14 million rubles, a 17 percent increase over the 1985 total of 12 million rubles. Cambodia exported more than 12 million rubles worth of rubber to East Germany and an additional million rubles worth of other goods. Cambodia's imports from East Germany amounted in value to more than 965,000 rubles.


Trade between Cambodia and Czechoslovakia totaled to 4.4 million rubles in 1985. In 1986 Cambodia exported 800 tons of rubber, more than 400 cubic meters of timber, and 700 tons of soybeans to Czechoslovakia. Cambodian imports from Czechoslovakia consisted chiefly of medicine and cloth. The two countries signed a protocol in Prague on October 29, 1987, on the exchange of goods planned for 1988. Under the terms of the protocol, total trade would increase by 19 percent over the 1987 level. Cambodia was to export rubber, beans, and timber to Czechoslovakia and was to import tractors, diesel engines, and pharmaceuticals.


Cambodia's trade with Poland between 1982 and 1985 was estimated at 4.4 million rubles. Cambodia exported rubber, timber, and soybeans and imported Polish textiles, ship engines, and glassware. The two countries set a trade target for 1986 to 1990 amounting to 14.3 million rubles.

In 1986 the trade between Cambodia and Poland amounted to 2.1 million rubles. On February 18, 1987, the two countries negotiated a trade agreement for the year stipulating that Cambodia would export crepe rubber, timber, furniture, soybeans, sesame seeds, and farm products; it would import, in return, antitrust paint, soldering rods, sewing machines, boat engines, raw materials for medicine, and consumer goods.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress