Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), experts and officials believe Cambodia is still safe over the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme, given its success in improvement of labor conditions, poverty reduction, and respect of human rights.
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They said this following the recent action taken by the European bloc to prepare for temporary withdrawal of EBA preferential trade treatment for Cambodia.
The EU in a media release dated October 7, officially notified Cambodia that it has already launched the procedures as such.
Once the Commission decision is taken, the temporary withdrawal procedure begins with a six months official monitoring period during which it provides the country concerned with every opportunity to cooperate, while gathering all necessary information it needs.
This is followed by another six months period that will allow it to produce a report on its findings and to conclude the procedure with another decision by the Commission on whether or not to withdraw the tariff preferences completely, it said.
“The launch of preparations for a withdrawal procedure reflects serious concerns over developments in Cambodia in relation to the respect of the rights and freedoms embodied in these Conventions,” the release added.
The EU statement issued last week said in the last paragraph, though the decision was made and the process has started, the door remains open for the government to engage the EU in a constructive way in order to redress the situation.
Kaing Monika, deputy secretary general for Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia wrote that he got no concern over the EU’s action saying it’s just the beginning of a yearlong process, adding that the decision to set in motion the formal investigation procedure and monitoring has not been made yet.
“The formal Commission decision is expected at the end of this year or early next year. And at this point, nobody can guarantee what the outcome will be and whether it will result in complete suspension of the trade preference or partial suspension or no suspension at all. Any opinion about the results of the process is pure speculation.
“At the moment, what we are more concerned about is rather the [media speculation] leading to reduced buyers and investors’ confidence, while the actual situation might be less frightening.
“There’s a timeframe of one year and the door is still open for both parties to have a meaningful and productive dialogue to bring about an amicable solution with mutual respect,” he added.
He explained that for the garment and shoes sectors, he felt safe, basing on the fact of the recognition of the good performance in term of working condition improvements and labour right respect in compliance with local laws and core international labour standards and Conventions.
“We have lifted millions of poor women and their families out of poverty, and I don’t think the EU would like to put those people back to poverty,” he said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on October 10 issued a communiqué in response to the EU’s statement.
It said the Cambodian government can only take the decision as an extreme injustice while the EU blatantly disregards the considerable progress made by the country, despite its recent tragic past, in the implementation of numerous international conventions to which the granting of the EBA preferences is linked, particularly in the areas of labor and land rights.
“We deeply regret that serious accusations were made against the government on the basis of an EU mission’s report made last July. The government is disappointed by the lack of transparency on the part of the EU for its non-disclosure of the contents of the said report, the substance of which forms the basis of the EU’s prejudicial decision,” it said.
It also said that since Cambodia achieved its full peace and national reconciliation, it undertook, under the most difficult conditions, the painful tasks of restoring the respect of fundamental human rights, and political rights, which for Europe took several centuries worth of efforts. Fundamental rights to food, health, education, housing, and work are foremost a prerequisite for an appeased democracy, said the statement.
By going forward with the measures for the withdrawal of the EBA, the European Commission is taking the risk of negating twenty years’ worth of development efforts persevered by the government to pull millions of women and men out of poverty.
As a result such a decision would nullify the enormous positive impact of the European policy from which Cambodia has benefited so far, said the ministry.
“Favoring drastic sanctions at the detriment of constructive dialogue may prove to be totally counterproductive.
“If the European institutions refuse to recognize the indisputable facts that led to the legal measures taken by the government, which are within the prerogatives of an independent and sovereign state, then any sanction to that effect will only harden the resolve of the Cambodian government to defend and preserve its rightful and legitimate actions.
“Cambodia counts on the support of the European States, though within the respect for its sovereignty and its dignity, to help it to realize this noble goal,” it added.
David Van, executive director of Deewee Management Consultants, said the door remained open for the government to engage the EU in a constructive way to redress the situation.
“Hence it’s up to the government to define a constructive advocacy process. Nothing is really lost yet,” he said.
The Everything But Arms scheme grants duty free and quota free access to the EU Single Market for all products (except arms and armaments) from Cambodia and other Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
To benefit from these preferences, all countries falling under the EBA should respect the principles enshrined in the fifteen United Nations (UN) and International Labor Organization (ILO) fundamental Conventions on human rights and labour rights.
The EU is Cambodia’s main export destination, accounting for 40 percent of all Cambodian exports. These exports have risen sharply in recent years, increasing by 227 percent between 2011 and 2016, and reaching €5 billion in value last year alone. Cambodia is now second amongst all EBA beneficiaries in terms of trade volume.
The EBA has contributed in particular to significant job creation and growth in the textile sector, which accounts for 75 percent of Cambodia’s exports to the EU, providing employment for some of the most vulnerable sectors of Cambodian society.
“The EU has emphasized that it will keep the channels of dialogue with Cambodia open, and that if Cambodia were to take measures to swiftly remedy the situation that has led to the initiation of the withdrawal procedure, the EU would reconsider the situation,” said the EU’s release.