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European Union unlikely to fully withdraw EBA: GMAC

May Kunmakara and Taing Vida / Khmer Times Share:
Garment workers head into their factories. The garment sector, which employs at least 700,000 people, relies heavily on exports to the EU market via the EBA trade scheme. KT/Fabien Mouret

The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia yesterday said after a meeting with European Union representatives that a full withdrawal of the Kingdom’s Everything-but-arms trade status is unlikely.

In February, the European Commission launched a monitoring period which could lead to the suspension of the Kingdom’s preferential access to the EU 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.

An EU delegation made up of officials from the EC and the European External Action Service is currently in the Kingdom to again review the situation.

Kaing Monika, deputy secretary-general of GMAC, told Khmer Times yesterday that he and two other colleagues joined a meeting at the EU office.

“I’m quite confident that our garment industry is less likely to be subjected to the withdrawal considering the positive developments we have made in the last 20 years, both economically and socially,” Mr Monika said. “We are working to address points of concern that the EU perceive as setbacks to labour rights post-2016, and those points are not really difficult to rectify.”

Mr Monika noted that labour trends in the country are positive and any speculation that the EBA will be withdrawn is alarmist and harms the garment sector as it affects investor confidence.

Thousands of garment workers travel to their factories. KT/Fabien Mouret

“I think a certain level of mutual understanding will happen in the process of dialogue and negotiation,” he added. “For sure to achieve everything the EU demands might not be easy, so a partial withdrawal is likely.”

The EU delegation on Monday began its second fact-finding mission in the Kingdom to analyse whether Cambodia should lose its Everything-but-arms trade status, according to outgoing EU Ambassador George Edgar.

The team will meet government officials and other stakeholders to 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.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ket Sophann yesterday confirmed that Minister Prak Sokhonn will see the EU team today to discuss the EBA issue and others relating to cooperation.

Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap also said the EU delegation will hold talks with Minister Ang Vong Vathana today to discuss improvements to the justice system.

“Representatives of the EU have requested to see the minister,” he said. “We will see what they want to know about Cambodia during this mission.”

Reached by email yesterday, Mr Edgar declined to comment on the EU team’s work.

“I am afraid I cannot give details of the mission’s meetings or their discussions,” he said.

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