China on Saturday pledged to support Cambodia if the European Union removes the Kingdom’s special trade status under the Everything-but-arms (EBA) scheme.
Also on Saturday, Van Sou Ieng, who has been re-elected as chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), defended Cambodia’s labour rights record and appealed to EU leaders to “carefully consider” their decision.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum in Beijing, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Wang Huning, member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party, discussed the possible removal of Cambodia’s EBA status with the EU, Kao Kim Hourn, delegate minister attached to the Prime Minister, told news agency AKP yesterday.
“Wang Huning told Samdech Techo Hun Sen that China has studied the impact that the withdrawal of the EBA will have on Cambodia. It found that the impact would not be serious. China will find ways of helping Cambodia,” Mr Kim Hourn said.
“Wang Huning stressed that Samdech Techo Hun Sen is a true friend of China and its people and is always attentive to what’s best for Sino-Cambodian relations.”
In response, Mr Hun Sen praised the success of the forum and said Cambodia’s has already benefited greatly from the BRI and is fully on board with it.
Additionally, Mr Hun requested China to further open its market to Cambodian products, especially agricultural goods.
“Samdech Techo Hun Sen wants to see that Chinese companies continue their investment in Cambodia and asked the Chinese government to encourage Chinese companies to do business here by highlighting the Cambodian government’s reform programme to improve the investment environment and attract foreign investors,” he said.
That same day, GMAC’s Mr Sou Ieng told reporters in Phnom Penh that he hoped the EU will not withdraw the Kingdom’s EBA status.
Speaking at GMAC’s general meeting, he explained that Cambodia fully complies with local labour laws as well as the International Labour Organization Conventions.
He said the garment industry has been playing a crucial role in the economic development of Cambodia and is helping reduce the poverty rate.
Mr Sou Ieng pointed out that the sector has faced some important challenges, most notably the EU’s recent decision to launch the process that could see the Kingdom’s EBA status come to an end.
“The potential removal of the EBA is a challenge and a threat to the sector, but I hope that the scheme will not be abolished because Cambodia has fully cooperated with ILO for the past 20 years.
“Cambodian factory owners allow inspections from the ILO, thus complying with not only local law but also with the International Labour Organization Conventions.”
He said that with more than 3,000 trade unions, the freedom of association is undoubtedly respected in the country.
“Now we had been instructed by the Minister of Labour to improve the Union Law so that we comply 120 percent with the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention.
“There isn’t any other country in the world that allows the ILO to inspect every factory,” he said, adding that in its inspections, the ILO has found that 83 percent of factories in the Kingdom respect the Labour Law.
“This is only the case in Cambodia,” he said.
“I hope that European politicians will take this into consideration before making a decision on the EBA. They must carefully consider their decision because the removal of the treaty would impact thousands of workers who depend on their jobs to make a living.”
He said ending the country’s preferential trade status would undermine the progress the EU has achieved in Cambodia, adding that he does not believe the bloc will terminate Cambodia’s EBA.
Ith Sam Heng, the Minister of Labour and Vocational Training, who presided over GMAC’s meeting, highlighted Cambodia’s progress in labour conditions in recent years.
“In response to EU’s concerns, the sector has strived to change and remodel itself. The results are clear: the number of strikes and demonstrations has fallen drastically and the minimum wage continues to increase every year.
“We are now preparing a retirement fund for them so I don’t how the EU could possibly decide to withdraw the EBA from us,” he said.
In February, the European Union started a six-month process of intense monitoring and engagement that could lead to the temporary suspension of Cambodia’s preferential access to the bloc’s market under the EBA trade scheme.
The EU market now accounts for about 40 percent of Cambodia’s exports. Between 2011 and 2016 exports to the EU rose by 227 percent, reaching $5.77 billion in value in 2017.