At the annual conference of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation last week, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn criticised the EU for exercising “double standards” and treating Cambodia unfairly.
“Might is right” is being exercised by major powers on weak and small states like Cambodia. It is crystal clear there is no such thing as “justice” and “fairness” in international politics.
Diversification is a matter of survival for Cambodia. Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday said rice exporters should turn to China and Vietnam in an effort to diversify the export market from the European Union (EU).
This comes in the wake of the EU invoking safeguards which limits exports of Cambodian rice to the EU due to flimsy complaints lodged by Spain and Italy on grounds that Cambodian rice exports, especially Jasmine rice to the EU, affect local producers of rice in these two countries.
The fact that the EU took this matter extremely serious is an understatement as tens of thousands of tonnes of Jasmine rice exported to the EU market is now officially wiped out, based on thin reasons that appear more political than trade protection.
That this comes in the wake of the EU putting Cambodia on notice for the possible revocation of the “Everything but Arms (EBA)” trade preferential treatment seems to have gone unnoticed by the “bleeding hearts” in the EU and the world, over purported violations carried out in Cambodia. Cambodia exported about $6 billion to the EU in 2018, accounting for 45 percent of the Kingdom’s total export.
While embarking on the safeguards on rice followed by threats to the sugar industry by the EU to also withdraw its trade preferences from the Kingdom, it would seem that the EU have adopted double standards as far as Cambodia is concerned.
It might be useless to point out numerous violations committed by neighbouring countries with whom the EU does business and seems determined to continue with “business as usual”. When it comes to Cambodia, that does not seem to be the case where Brussels is determined to impose its economic coercion to ensure that EU’s relations with Cambodia is anything but “business as unusual’.
Yes, Cambodia has its weaknesses. Can the EU and the US, which are also trying to pass legislations to remove their trade preferential deals with Cambodia, name one of their trading partners in Asia or Latin America or even in Europe who are not in violation of issues like human rights, freedom of expression and so forth? Unlikely.
Particularly, since the EU is determined to use EBA as a potent geopolitical tool on Cambodia with utter disregard for the well-being and survival of the hundreds of thousands of garment and footwear workers and their families who depend on this key pillar of the Cambodian economy to keep their heads above the water.
On whose conscience would this be laid on? Do the EU and also the US even have a conscience for the wellbeing of the Cambodian people instead of the interest of one delusional political has-been? Do the EU and the US really care about the livelihood of millions of people?
The EU’s own chamber of commerce in Cambodia, Eurocham, as with the US chamber of commerce, Amcham, both seem to have adopted a position which is contrary to their countries’ confrontational dictatorial approach towards Cambodia.
They have outlined the gains made by Cambodia and have also made it abundantly clear on the losses and pain which could bear down on Cambodia and her citizens if the trade benefits were abolished.
If both the EU and the US take note of the fact that while removing trade benefits could be equated to trade sanctions, even if they choose not to say so, the possible collateral effect of such a draconian action on Cambodia will not improve democracy and human rights in Cambodia. Instead it might lead to the complete end of the main opposition party.
In the final analysis, trade benefits have become instruments of blackmail. Democracy in the Asian model is viewed as repulsive when larger trade volumes come into play and arbitrary punishment of 16 million Cambodian people for the unstated benefits of a single entity with a political agenda becomes a priority.
Having said that, one wonders who would understand the Cambodian situation better? Trade organisations and chambers of commerce that live and conduct their business in Cambodia or the politicians who sit in glass towers in Brussels and Washington?
At what price? It is a black hole which cannot be quantified until the full effects are felt and as such, is still uncertain.
What is indeed certain is the fact that a sovereign country is being blackmailed, threatened and demonised by politicians in the “democratic” world for not adhering to their brand of freedom and democracy. The EU and the US should not push Cambodia to a corner like a wounded animal. We all know what happens when an animal is wounded and cornered at the same time. The events in 1970s should serve as a stark reminder.