Gold Surge Reflects Stricter Border Control, Speculative Investments: Asean Research

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A gold bar (Bullion Vault/Flickr)

The ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office said Wednesday that Cambodia’s wild swings in gold imports and exports over the past three years could be linked to speculative investments and stricter border controls capturing more accurate data.

In a sidebar in its country report, AMRO noted that gold exports had “jumped dramatically” from $388 million in 2019 to $3 billion in 2020.

Imports, then, surged from $865 million in 2020 to $6 billion in 2021, it said.

“The import of gold was barely visible in statistics in the past, with a share of around 2 percent of total imports,” AMRO said.

The research office gave two potential reasons for the development.

Firstly, it said gold prices increased significantly in 2020 then fell in 2021, and the spike in trade could reflect “speculative investments” as well as gold’s popularity as an investment and savings vehicle in Cambodia.

Secondly, it said Covid-19’s stricter border controls could have led to more of the gold trade — which already existed — being captured in official statistics.

Cambodia’s import statistics were well below those reported as going to the country by its main trading partners, Singapore and Thailand, until 2020, the report shows.

“These large flows were not recorded in Cambodia’s official export statistics,” AMRO said. “However, stricter border controls may have enabled the capture of this trade in gold in official statistics, leading to a big jump in exports in 2020 and imports in 2021.”

Earlier this month, the World Bank reported “strong” imports of gold, around $4 billion, for the first eight months of the year, which was much higher than agricultural imports at $715 million. A World Bank economist said they were still looking into the increase in gold imports and that everyone was surprised by the development.

However, this reported increase in gold imports began during the Covid-19 pandemic, and some observers have previously spoken of Cambodia being used as a hub for smuggling gold from Singapore to Vietnam.

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