A group of worker union representatives have sent a petition to EU representatives in Cambodia asking them to keep the country’s preferential trade status with the European bloc intact.
The petition was delivered to an EU delegation currently in Phnom Penh on a fact-finding mission, which includes meetings with government officials to discuss the country’s access to the Everything-but-arms scheme.
The petitioners included the National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia, Confederation of Cambodia Bright Workers, Confederation Union National Independent Cambodian, Cambodia National Confederation for Labour Protection and the Youth Protect of Cambodian Workers Rights Confederation.
The petition said that the European Union has become Cambodia’s second largest trading partner and the EBA has created thousands of jobs, brought billions of dollars to thousands of workers and has helped millions escape poverty.
It said the EBA has also helped improve working conditions and eliminate child labour in the garment and footwear sectors.
Som Aun, president of the National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia, said that Cambodian workers depended on the garment and footwear sectors for their livelihoods and should not have to suffer setbacks to their lives via an EBA cancellation motivated by political reasons.
“We strongly urge the European Union to carefully consider the impact of removing the EBA tariff system from Cambodia, which will directly affect the employment and livelihoods of about three million workers and their families,” he said.
More than 100 workers and unions reps from 40 factories came to the Labour Ministry yesterday to have it deliver the petition to the EU delegation.
Toun Saren, general-secretary of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said that the petition bore thumb prints of thousands of workers.
“Reps of workers across the country are worried about the EU withdrawing the EBA,” Mr Saren said. “We are concerned with losing jobs and it affecting livelihoods; that’s why we collected thumbprints asking the EU not to withdraw it.”
The EU delegation’s mission follows a Cambodian delegation sent to Brussels last month to lobby European lawmakers to not withdraw the Kingdom’s current preferential trade status.
The Cambodian delegation, spearheaded by Sok Siphana, an economic adviser to the government, was organised after a report from the European Union in April that highlighted human rights abuses in the Kingdom and hinted at the possibility of cutbacks in the Everything-but-arm treaty, a scheme that gives Cambodia duty-free access to the EU market.
The European Union report in April noted a “list of issues”, which included worries over the deteriorating situation of human rights in the country, the shuttering of media outlets, and a worsening democratic atmosphere after the dissolution of the opposition CNRP in November.
EU Ambassador to Cambodia George Edgar said last night that the delegation has met with a range of government officials.
“The purpose has been to learn more about the situation in Cambodia in terms of human rights and labour rights, in the context of the EU’s enhanced engagement with Cambodia under the Everything But Arms arrangement,” Mr Edgar said.
“The information gathered by the mission will feed into the decision making process in the European Commission.”
According to data from the European Commission, trade between Cambodia and the EU was worth $6.7 billion in 2017, making the EU Cambodia’s second biggest trade partner.
Cambodian exports to the EU were valued at $5.7 billion, and were mostly textiles, footwear and agricultural products.