The Royal Academy of Cambodia on Friday said the removal of the Everything-but-arms preferential status would not be fair and called the move to review the Kingdom’s access politically motivated.
Academy president Sok Touch said during a roundtable discussion at its headquarters in Phnom Penh that the Kingdom’s constitution and labour laws are fair and the EU’s move is not related to trade issues.
“Is the EBA issue politics or not politics. If the EBA is withdrawn from Cambodia, how about Laos?” he said. “Is Laos a democracy which follows human rights? It is ruled by a single party.”
Mr Touch also pointed out members of the Rohingya ethnic minority have been killed in Myanmar, but its EBA is not being removed.
“Why only Cambodia?” he asked. “The bid to withdraw the EBA is politically motivated.”
“We have a democracy and a multi-party system and laws which comply with the constitution, including the labour law,” Mr Touch noted. “Please tell us what we did wrong.”
The EU last week started the process of intense monitoring and engagement for six months that could lead to the temporary suspension of the EBA trade scheme over perceived human rights setbacks and the decline of democracy following the dissolution of the CNRP.
The temporary withdrawal procedure does not entail an immediate removal of tariff preferences, which according to the statement is the last resort. “Instead, it kicks off a period of intensive monitoring and engagement. The aim of the European Commission remains to improve the situation for the people on the ground,” a statement from the EC said.
Last week, EC vice president Federica Mogherini said in the statement that despite steps taken by the government to improve the human rights and democratic situation in the country, its access to the scheme must still be questioned.
Ms Mogherini said the EC needed to highlight the deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia over the past 18 months.
Sok Sokpheak, a secretary of state at Commerce Ministry, said that the EU merely informed the government to engage with the bloc to address its concerns over Article 19, which relates to the right to freedom of assembly.
“We are already allowing that right, but they are not satisfied and want us to do more in accordance with their standards,” he said.
EuroCham president Arnaud Darc said at the roundtable discussion that he regrets the announcement made by the EU last week.
“We have expressed our regrets in respect to a decision taken by the commission to initiate a formal investigation into withdrawing tariff preferences granted to the Kingdom of Cambodia,” he said.
He noted that EuroCham has around 350 member companies in Cambodia.
“As the main representative of the largest European investments and business in Cambodia, EuroCham is deeply concerned about the possible negative consequences of this decision to business between the EU and Cambodia,” Mr Darc said.
He noted that the EBA withdrawal will result in higher tariffs for Cambodian exports to Europe.