Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday vowed to hit back if the EU decides to revoke the Kingdom’s Everything But Arms trade preference scheme during a European Commission meeting tomorrow.
He issued the warning when addressing a meeting between CPP members and representatives of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party in Phnom Penh.
The meeting was held as part of Lao President and Lao People’s Revolutionary Party general secretary Bounnhang Vorachith’s two-day official visit to the Kingdom, which began on Sunday.
“The biggest challenge to Cambodia is Europe’s decision on the EBA that it will issue on February 12,” Mr Hun Sen said. “I am waiting to see whether we [Cambodia] will completely lose it [EBA] or lose some parts of it. I told them if they cut off EBA completely, they will have no right to talk to us about human rights and democracy and their aid to us [Cambodia] will be meaningless,” Mr Hun Sen added.
He said that by cutting off the EBA, the EU is sealing the fate of the court-dissolved CNRP and its former president Kem Sokha who are puppets of the West which wants them to be reinstated.
Cambodian imports under the EBA accounted for 18 percent of all imports coming into the EU market under the scheme last year. The imports, which included clothes and textile products, were worth about $6 billion in 2018.
The EBA scheme allows Cambodian goods to enter the EU market 99 percent tariff-free. The loss of the EBA is predicted to cost Cambodia millions of dollars, along with risking the jobs of 800,000 people employed in the Kingdom’s garment and textile manufacturing sector.
The EBA has been under review due to perceived democratic and human right setbacks following the Supreme Court dissolution of the CNRP and the arrest of Sokha over treason charges in 2017.
Mr Hun Sen stressed that Cambodia will not bow to pressure from the EU over the EBA and will preserve its peace, stability and sovereignty.
He also stressed that the nation has also made alternative plans to continue trading with EU countries if the EBA is dropped.
“Losing the EBA does not mean we [Cambodia] will lose the market because the trade preference is given to poor countries such as Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia who are members of Asean,” Mr Hun Sen said. “Cambodia’s economy is growing fast and we expect to lose the EBA status anyway by 2025.”
“Cambodian rice still has a high demand in the EU’s market, even after being taxed if the EU removes the EBA,” he added.
Mr Hun Sen said Cambodia exported 300,000 tonnes of rice to the EU last year.
During his meeting with Mr Vorachith, the Prime Minister noted that European countries are facing their own regional problems such as Brexit and are at bitter odds with Asean members such as the Philippines over its anti-drug campaign, Indonesia and Malaysia over the clearing of forests to plant oil palms, Myanmar over the Rohingya issue and Cambodia over the perceived setback to human rights and democracy.