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Cambodia Reaches Double-Digit High in Air Cargo Volume

A rising tide lifts all boats—or planes. As Cambodia’s garment industry grows, so, too, does the country’s air freight volume.

The Phnom Penh Post recently reported that air cargo to and from Cambodia jumped 14 percent to 38,065 tons last year, driven by an increase in apparel exports to the U.S., Japan and China.

“Our cargo traffic is closely linked with the garment industry, so basically we grow when it does well,” Khek Norinda, communications and PR director at Cambodia Airports told the Post.

“Most exports are garment products and most imports are accessories for garment production,” Bun Chandara, air operation supervisor for freight forwarder Transpeed Cargo, said, noting that most of his firm’s shipments last year were for garment sector clients. “[After manufacturing], they will send the finished product to anywhere, but mostly to the E.U. and U.S. because these [markets] provide a quota to Cambodia.”

Figures from the Ministry of Commerce, published by the International Labor Organization (ILO) last November, revealed that Cambodia’s garment and footwear exports grew by 12.7% in the first half of 2015. This increase occurred despite the 28 percent monthly minimum wage hike that came into effect more than a year ago.

And that trajectory continued through December: numbers posted Monday revealed that Cambodia exported $7.1 billion worth of apparel and shoes in 2015, up 14.5% from the previous year’s $6.2 billion.

In fact, Cambodia’s share of the dollar value of U.S. imports rose by 0.1% in the first 11 months of 2015 to 2.9%, compared to the year-ago period, according to the International Trade Administration’s Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA).

But Norinda said he’s expecting air freight growth to slow in 2016 because of global economic uncertainty, forecasting an increase of just 4.5%, compared to last year’s double-digit surge. And time will tell if Cambodia can retain its grip on garment exports: minimum wage for textiles and footwear workers went up 9.4 percent to $140 per month on Jan. 1, which some factory owners have said could cause clothing giants to take their business to other low-cost countries.