Representatives of the Kingdom’s private sector this week urged the European Union not to cancel the Everything-but-arms (EBA) scheme in response to a perceived deterioration of human rights and democracy in the country.
For in depth analysis of Cambodian Business, visit Capital Cambodia
An EU delegation, which includes the EU Ambassador to Cambodia, is now in the Kingdom on a fact-finding mission to assess the latest political developments in the country before deciding whether or not to cancel or curtail a key trade scheme that grants the Kingdom preferential access to the EU market.
The mission has already met with civil society organisations, private sector representatives, and government officials.
Kaing Monika, deputy secretary general at the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), told Khmer Times that representatives of the private sector, including GMAC, met with the EU mission on Monday and expressed their views on the need to maintain the current EBA treaty intact.
He said the Cambodian delegation told EU dignitaries that the local private sector respects all EU requirements when it comes to labour and human rights, and that, in line with requirements to maintain the EBA treaty, there have been significant improvements in factory working conditions and workers’ rights.
Mr Monika said the EU responded by saying that they were not here to punish Cambodia but to study the current political and economic situation and “encourage the country to improve.”
GMAC, which comprises 500 members employing more than 700,000 workers, were joined at the meeting by representatives of the Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations (Camfeba) and the Rice Association.
“As we know the economic impact of the EBA for Cambodia has been tremendous. It has helped built Cambodian trade with the EU, particularly in the garment, shoes and rice segments.
“Of course, the EBA is conditional to compliance with various conventions, especially those on human rights and labour rights.
“We shared our views with the EU on the contribution of the EBA to Cambodia’s economic development, and the country’s adherence to all relevant conventions,” he said.
Mr Monika said the EU delegation acknowledged the hard work and achievements of the garment and footwear sector in improving the lives of workers.
“Based on our performance, we are quite sure that we won’t be wrongly punished. The EU market would continue to be one of our most important markets in terms of textiles and shoes exports for many years to come,” added Mr Monika.
A source who wishes to remain anonymous but was privy to the meeting told Khmer Times that the EU representatives questioned the Cambodian delegation on the impact the EBA has had on Cambodia’s main sectors of economic activity, including textiles and agriculture.
They wanted to know the benefits it has brought to farmers and whether or not it has played a role in attracting investment.
“We explained how the EBA has impacted the livelihoods of 3 million farmers and 800,000 workers. At the same time, we defended our view that we have observed all the conventions stated in the EBA,” he said.
He added that the EU delegation will meet with representatives of several other industries, NGOs and unions in the next few days before sending their conclusions back to Brussels.
Like GMAC’s Mr Monika, the source believed that the EU will not annul the EBA.
EU Ambassador to Cambodia George Edgar said last night that the delegation has met with a range of government officials.
“The purpose has been to learn more about the situation in Cambodia in terms of human rights and labour rights, in the context of the EU’s enhanced engagement with Cambodia under the Everything But Arms arrangement,” Mr Edgar said.
“The information gathered by the mission will feed into the decision making process in the European Commission,” he added.
In March, the EU reaffirmed its commitment to strengthen economic ties with Cambodia and support further integration of the country into regional supply chains.
Last month, the Cambodian government sent a delegation to Brussels headed by Sok Siphana, an economic adviser to the government, to lobby EU lawmakers to keep Cambodia’s trade status.
The delegation was sent after the EU issued a report in April condemning the dissolution of the CNRP last year and hinting at a possible annulment of the EBA treaty as a punitive measure.
According to data from the European Commission, the EU is Cambodia’s biggest trading partner with a trade volume of 5.86 billion euro ($6.7 billion) in 2017.