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China-owned SEZ in Cambodia denies transhipping to evade U.S. tariffs

Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH, June 21 (Reuters) - A China-owned special economic zone in Cambodia has denied that its firms have been fined by the United States for transhipping goods from China in a bid to dodge U.S. President Donald Trump's tariffs on Chinese imports.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Arend Zwartjes told Reuters in an emailed statement on Wednesday that the Department of Homeland Security had inspected and fined a number of companies inside the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ) for transhipping goods through it to avoid the tariffs.

The spokesman did not identify any companies or say how many had been fined for avoiding the tariffs, how large the fines were, or what goods the companies had been exporting.

The SSEZ, in a statement posted on its website late on Thursday, denied the allegations and said that an internal investigation had revealed that none of the companies operating in the zone have been fined by the United States.

"The results show that 29 enterprises at present in SSEZ with products exporting to the USA have not been investigated or punished by the U.S. customs recently," the SSEZ said.

"We deeply regret the damage to the reputation of SSEZ caused by the above false reports," it said.

"We have always insisted on the establishment and the administration of parks according to laws and regulations and resolutely oppose any illegal activities".

The U.S. embassy spokesman declined to comment on the statement.

This month, Vietnam's customs department said it had also found scores of cases of exporters illegally relabelling Chinese goods "Made in Vietnam" in order to avoid tariffs imposed as a result of the U.S.-China trade dispute.

China is Cambodia's biggest aid donor and investor, pouring in billions of dollars in development assistance and loans through the Belt and Road initiative, which aims to bolster land and sea links with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. (Reporting by Prak Chan Thul Editing by James Pearson)