A fact-finding team sent by the European Commission to analyse whether Cambodia should lose its Everything-but-arms trade status arrived in the Kingdom yesterday.
In February, the EC launched a monitoring period which could lead to the suspension of the Kingdom’s preferential access to the European Union market under the EBA trade scheme.
According to the EU website, the move is in line with the EBA withdrawal process that was put into motion on October 4 following a fact-finding mission to Cambodia in July that allegedly found evidence of systematic violations of core human and labour rights, in particular the rights to political participation and the freedom of assembly, expression and association.
In an email to Khmer Times yesterday, outgoing EU Ambassador George Edgar said this team is made up of officials from the EC and the European External Action Service.
Mr Edgar said the second visit is part of the process of engagement between the EU and Cambodia regarding the EBA.
“In February 2019, a formal procedure was launched by the European Commission that could result in the withdrawal of Cambodia’s EBA preferences,” Mr Edgar said. “This week’s mission is part of that procedure.”
Mr Edgar said the team will meet government officials and other stakeholders. He added that it will gather information on areas of concern with respect to United Nations and International Labour Organisation conventions that form part of the conditionality for access to EBA preferences.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International in Cambodia, said he was invited to meet the delegation on Thursday to offer insight on the issue of rights in Cambodia.
“I will answer all questions from the EU delegation when we meet,” Mr Kol said. “I am sure they will focus mainly on the human rights situation, freedom of speech, partnership between civil society groups and the government, and also about the justice system.”
Soeng Sen Karuna, senior investigator with the rights group Adhoc, said his organisation will outline the country’s progress following democratic and human rights setbacks.
“Until now, we have no yet seen any improvements,” Mr Sen Karuna. “We are concerned about the revocation of the EBA and hope that the government will figure out ways to avoid the problem.”
The EBA review is being conducted by the EC due to perceived democratic and human rights setbacks after the Supreme Court in 2017 dissolved the opposition CNRP and banned its senior members from politics.
The government has since made moves to appease the EU and prevent revocation of the EBA, such as paving the way for banned former opposition party members to return to the political arena through an amendment to the Law on Political Parties.
Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak yesterday reiterated that the Kingdom will not exchange its sovereignty for trade benefits.
“I checked already and saw that the ministry has not received any request from the EU team,” he said. “I wish to let them know that we will not exchange our sovereignty for aid or support from the EU.”
“We have our own laws,” Gen Sopheak added.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ket Sophann could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The EU accounts for 40 percent of Cambodia’s exports, rising 227 percent between 2011 and 2016 and reaching $5.77 billion in 2017.