A fact-finding mission sent by the European Union will arrive in Cambodia late this month or early April, European Union Ambassador George Edgar announced this week.
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During a meeting Tuesday, the EU Ambassador told Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak that an EU delegation is scheduled to pay a visit to the Kingdom in upcoming weeks to gather information that will be weighed by the European Commission to decide whether or not to revoke Cambodia’s preferential trade status.
Mr Edgar did not provide an exact date for the fact-finding mission.
Following concerns over democratic and human rights setbacks in Cambodia, on Feb 12 the EU launched the process to temporarily suspend the Everything-but-arms (EBA) deal that grants the Kingdom preferential access to the European market.
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), the largest association of factory owners in the Kingdom, welcomed the news, saying that the visit of the EU team gives Cambodia an opportunity to show the situation on the ground as opposed to what has been reported by NGOs and international organisations.
“This is a rare opportunity for all stakeholders, especially the private sector like GMAC or the European Chamber of Commerce (Eurocham) to directly communicate the facts about Cambodia. So far, we had only been able to correspond through letters or statements,” said Kaing Monika, deputy secretary general.
“The delegates will also be able to see other areas that showcase the Kingdom’s economic and social development like infrastructure, health care, education, environment, and the private sector, which are as important as democracy and human rights,” added Mr Monika.
Speaking at a roundtable meeting on the EBA issue on Feb 15, Sok Sopheak, secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, said the EBA will probably not be revoked, as the government has plenty of time to negotiate with the EU and defend its position. Mr Sopheak pointed out that the temporary suspension of the EBA is an 18-month process.
“We have a whole six months to argue with the European Commission,” he said.
“Regardless, I believe the EBA will not be suspended because Cambodia has implemented all 42 articles in the EBA,” he said, adding that “there was only a small problem in implementing article 19.”
Article 19 of the EBA states that EBA preferences can be withdrawn in case of some exceptional circumstances, notably in case of serious and systematic violation of principles laid down in fundamental human rights and labour rights conventions.
“I don’t think this issue is so big that we cannot deal with it,” Mr Sopheak said, adding that the country is ready to deal with the suspension.
Eurocham chairman Arnaud Darc said during last month’s roundtable meeting that European firms will continue to invest in Cambodia even if the EBA is suspended because the country has great potential in several industries.
“A number of sectors will be impacted by the suspension of EBA, including tourism, construction, and agriculture. But Cambodia will remain an attractive destination for foreign investment.
“Cambodia now has to show other countries that it is a strong nation with plenty to offer,” Mr Darc added.