The Ministry of Commerce said it has found no sign of duty evasion among Chinese companies operating out of Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ), but said it will conduct one more investigation to satisfy US demands.

The US Embassy in Phnom Penh recently called on the Cambodian Government to look closely at governance and compliance issues at the majority Chinese-owned SSEZ over claims that some Chinese companies use the zone to transship goods to the US and avoid tariffs.

No specific company was named by the Embassy.

The ministry has already concluded an investigation which has shown that, contrary to US allegations, no Chinese company is using the zone to circumvent US tariffs, said ministry spokesman Seang Thay. He added that the ministry will conduct one more investigation to look further into the matter.

“An investigation conducted on June 22, found no sign of Chinese companies using Cambodia as a transshipment base to avoid paying tariffs on exports to the US,” Mr Thay said.

“After learning about the issue from social media channels, we launched an investigation. We found nothing,” he said, adding that, “We will conduct another investigation and cooperate closely with relevant parties on the case.”

The first investigation’s results show that none of the 29 enterprises present at SSEZ that export to the US have recently been investigated or punished by US customs authorities, SSEZ said in a statement released on June 20.

US Embassy spokeswoman Emily Zeeberg on Friday said in an email that, since 2017, there have been two instances where companies operating out of SSEZ attempted to evade duties on products being exported to the United States.

She said that the goods in question were glycine and steel pipe fittings.

“In both cases, US officials conducted on-site inspections in Sihanoukville SEZ and determined that, although being represented as Cambodian, the goods in question were of Chinese origin on importation into the United States,” she wrote.

She added that under US customs and trade law, those companies were assessed with anti-dumping duties.

“The United States will aggressively pursue allegations of duty evasion and utilise all available legal tools, including civil and criminal penalties or other enforcement actions, to deter violators of US customs and trade laws,” she wrote. “We call on Cambodian government authorities to look closely at governance and compliance issues at Sihanoukville SEZ.”

In its June 20 statement, SSEZ said, “We deeply regret the damage to the reputation of SSEZ caused by the above false reports.

“As a major project of international cooperation between China and Cambodia along the Belt and Road Initiative, SSEZ has been jointly developed and built by the Cambodian and Chinese enterprises. We have always insisted on the establishment and the administration of parks according to laws and regulations and resolutely oppose any illegal activities.

“In the future, we will continue to operate in accordance with the laws and regulations, further strengthen the management of enterprises in SSEZ, and operate SSEZ well.”