Two US congressmen on Tuesday introduced the Cambodia Trade Act bill to ask US President Donald Trump’s administration to review the preferential trade treatment under the General System of Preferences that Cambodia receives from the United States.
The CTA bill will require the administration to review Cambodia’s preferential trade status under which it is allowed exemptions or reductions to tariffs on goods it exports to the United States.
In a press release dated February 26, Congressmen Alan Lowenthal and Steve Chabot said the bill seeks to suspend the United States’ preferential trading agreement with the Asian nation due to human rights violations by its leaders.
The statement said Prime Minister Hun Sen has been accused of serious labour and human rights violations, as well as actions to undermine the nation’s path towards democracy by attempts to abolish any political opposition or dissent.
“The regime of Hun Sen has steadily dismantled what was a burgeoning democracy of Southeast Asia,” Mr Lowenthal said in the statement. “He has undermined the will of the people, subverted the promise of free and fair elections, and wielded power with the iron glove of a dictator.”
“Intimidation, threats, violence, and even murder, are the tools of his regime. Mr Hun Sen and his regime must pay a price for their role in destroying the rule of law and violating the basic freedoms of the Cambodian people,” he added.
The bill will also require the Trump administration to use the findings of its review to reach a decision on whether Cambodia’s preferential trade privileges should be withdrawn, suspended, or limited.
“As I have said repeatedly in the past, Prime Minister Hun Sen must be held accountable for uprooting democracy in Cambodia,” Mr Chabot said. “Cambodia continues to receive preferential trade status when dealing with the United States while he continues to trample on the rights of his people. In light of his actions, it is time for us to reevaluate this special treatment.”
Cambodia received the preferential status in 1997 and exports more than $180 million worth of duty-free goods per year to the US under the programme. The US last renewed Cambodia’s GSP status in April last year.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday said the move was made to force the government to exchange the Kingdom’s sovereignty for the preferential treatment status.
“In reality, there is no serious human rights violation and democracy setbacks in the country as they claim,” Mr Eysan said. “If it were true, Cambodia would not be able to ensure peace, political stability and safety – and there would be chaos everywhere.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday reiterated the government’s commitment in ensuring democracy and preventing violation of the Kingdom’ sovereignty.
“Cambodia must protect itself from any political pressure,” he said. “The Kingdom is currently enjoying positive and sustainable benefits after its independence and sovereignty were guaranteed.”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the government is attempting to fight off criticisms of its performance in the area of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
“The government ignored the issues raised and accused foreign critics of interfering in Cambodia’s internal affairs,” he said. “Its efforts have been in vain when deeds speak louder than words.”
The EU earlier this month started an 18 month review that could see the Kingdom’s EBA status revoked, citing human rights violations.