Despite recent clashes over the human rights situation in the kingdom, the European Union and Cambodia reaffirmed on Wednesday their commitment to strengthen economic ties and support further integration of the country into regional supply chains.
The commitment was made during the 10th Joint Committee Meeting between Cambodia and the EU, which was held in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday.
According to a joint press release, the sub-group on trade and investment reiterated the important role of the Everything-but-arms treaty in helping expand bilateral trade and in contributing to Cambodia’s impressive economic growth in recent years.
“The two sides agreed on the importance of an open and liberalised investment framework in Cambodia to encourage further investment from the EU, support integration into regional value chains and contribute to the country’s economic diversification,” it said.
According to the statement, Cambodia-EU trade reached five billion euro ($6.2 billion) in 2017.
The statement also made mention of recent events in Cambodia that have sparked concern in the West, and called on Cambodian authorities to act quickly to put an end to them.
“The EU expresses its concern, particularly on issues related to economic land concessions for sugar plantations, human rights and labour conditions. Urgent action on the Cambodian side is needed to address these issues,” the statement said.
Van David, executive director of Deewee Management Consultants, told Khmer Times the statement was good news for Cambodia’s trade sector.
“It only expressed concern. I don’t expect forceful actions or sanctions from the EU at this point,” he said, adding that a lot of progress have been done recently in areas where the EU is likely to focus future funding, including agriculture, environment protection and education.
Kaing Monika, deputy secretary general at the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), told Khmer Times that with the help of the International Labor Organization and its Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) programme the lives of workers in the garment industry have improved substantially in recent years.
“There’s been a remarkable improvement in working conditions and rights, such as full freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining,” he said.
“Developments in social security and the regular wage adjustment on an annual basis are also positive points for the workers. This would continue to ensure our preferential access to the EU market.”
A report released last month by BFC found that compliance in the garment industry with working conditions regulations has improved significantly in the last four years.
The EU is the biggest market for Cambodia’s garment and footwear industry accounting for roughly 40 percent of all exports.