Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday said demands being made by the European Union in order for the Kingdom to retain its Everything-but-arms trade status are unacceptable and will not be fully implemented.
“We cannot accept what they demand,” Mr Hun Sen said during a speech at an inauguration ceremony in Phnom Penh. “We cannot exchange our legal system and independence [to retain the EBA].”
Mr Hun Sen’s comments came after the European Commission filed a preliminary report with the government last week regarding steps the government must take to retain its EBA status.
The report has not been made public, but the EU initially launched the EBA review over perceived democratic and human rights setbacks following the dissolution of the opposition CNRP.
The EU has been demanding that the government “restore democracy and the rule of law, and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms”, referring to the dissolution of the opposition party and crackdowns on civil society and press freedom in 2017.
After the report was filed, Maja Kocijancic, the EU’s spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, said on Twitter that political space in the Kingdom remains a concern.
“The EU reiterates the importance of the Cambodian authorities taking immediate action to open the political space in the country, to establish the necessary conditions for a credible, democratic opposition,” Ms Kocijancic said.
Mr Hun Sen yesterday went on to say that the Kingdom is well-prepared to lose the EBA.
“If they want us to pay tax, then let’s pay them,” he said. “It does not the matter.”
Mr Hun Sen said the EU has used the EBA as leverage to pressure the Kingdom into accepting its demands and once it is gone, such tactics will no longer be of concern.
“Currently, they use EBA as tool to threaten us and force us to follow them. I wish to inform you that we cannot exchange our sovereignty with your aid or trade preference,” he said. “They cannot use the EBA to threaten us anymore.”
Mr Hun Sen noted the Kingdom will eventually lose its EBA status before 2030 as its economy continues to grow.
“We will pay full tax in the near future,” he said.
The EU is one of Kingdom’s biggest markets for textile and garment products with duty-free access under the EBA. The EU market accounts for about 40 percent of Cambodia’s exports.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights, yesterday said the government should fulfil the EU’s demands to retain the EBA.
Mr Tola said that investors will move to other countries if the EBA is withdrawn, noting that the government should provide stronger support to investors so they still do business in the Kingdom.
“If the government can provide subsidies for their investments, it will be good,” he said.
Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the EU is using the EBA as a political tool.
“The EBA issue does not depend on Cambodia; it is the EU’s political agenda. If they want to withdraw it, they will,” he said. “What they demand is not reflective of the real situation in the Kingdom. It is politically motivated.”
“The human rights situation in the Kingdom is much better than other countries in the region such as Laos and Myanmar,” Mr Phea added.