The European Union yesterday started the process of intense monitoring and engagement for six months that could lead to the temporary suspension of Cambodia’s preferential access to the market under the Everything-but-arms (EBA) trade scheme, it said in a statement.
The launching of the temporary withdrawal procedure does not entail an immediate removal of tariff preferences, which, according to the statement, is the option of last resort.
“Instead, it kicks off a period of intensive monitoring and engagement. The aim of the European Commission remains to improve the situation for the people on the ground,” read the statement that was published on the EU website.
The move is in line with the EBA withdrawal process that was put into motion on Oct 4 last year following a fact-finding mission to Cambodia in July that allegedly found evidence of serious and systematic violations of core human and labour rights, in particular the rights to political participation and the freedoms of assembly, expression and association.
The findings added to the longstanding EU concerns regarding the lack of workers’ rights and disputes linked to economic land concessions in the country.
EU member states gave their approval to the EC proposal to launch the withdrawal procedure at the end of last month.
The temporary withdrawal process aims to force Cambodia to adhere to its obligations under core United Nations and International Labour Organisation conventions.
The process involves a six-month period of intensive monitoring and engagement with the Cambodian authorities, followed by another three-month period for the EU to produce a report based on the findings.
After a total of 12 months, the EC will conclude the procedure with a final decision on whether or not to withdraw tariff preferences.
“It is also at this stage that the Commission will decide the scope and duration of the withdrawal. Any withdrawal would come into effect after a further six-month period,” the statement said.
EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said it should be made clear that yesterday’s move is neither a final decision nor the end of the process. Instead, it simply means that the clock is now officially ticking and that the EU needs to see real progress soon.
“We now go into a monitoring and evaluation process in which we are ready to engage fully with the Cambodian authorities and work with them to find a way forward.
“When we say that the EU’s trade policy is based on values, these are not just empty words. We are proud to be one of the world’s most open markets for least developed countries and the evidence shows that exporting to the EU single market can give a huge boost to their economies.
“Our engagement with the situation in Cambodia has led us to conclude that there are severe deficiencies when it comes to human rights and labour rights in Cambodia that the government needs to tackle if it wants to keep its country’s privileged access to our market,” she added.
High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice President of the EC Federica Mogherini said the commission has seen a deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia over the last 18 months.
She reiterated that last February, EU Foreign Affairs Ministers made clear how seriously the EU viewed the developments.
“In recent months, the Cambodian authorities have taken a number of positive steps including the release of political figures, civil society activists and journalists, and addressing some of the restrictions on civil society and trade union activities.
“However, without more conclusive action from the government, the situation on the ground calls Cambodia’s participation in the EBA scheme into question. As the EU, we are committed to a partnership with Cambodia that delivers for the Cambodian people. Our support for democracy and human rights in the country is at the heart of this partnership,” she added.
The EU market accounts for 40 percent of Cambodia’s exports, rising 227 percent between 2011 and 2016, and reaching $5.77 billion in value in 2017 alone.
In 2018, exports of textiles and footwear, prepared foodstuff, vegetable products, and bicycles represented 97 percent of Cambodia’s exports to the EU.
Most Cambodian exports (99 percent) are eligible for EBA preferential duties.