Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn yesterday met with a visiting EU delegation and reiterated that the government will not exchange its sovereignty for access to the Everything-but-arms trade scheme.
In February, the European Commission launched a monitoring period which could lead to the suspension of the Kingdom’s preferential access to the European Union market under the EBA trade scheme.
According to the EU website, the move is in line with the EBA withdrawal process that was put into motion on October 4 following a fact-finding mission to Cambodia in July that allegedly found evidence of systematic violations of core human and labour rights, in particular the rights to political participation and the freedom of assembly, expression and association.
The EU expressed concerns over the dissolution of the former opposition CNRP and also called for treason charges against its former leader to be dropped; the government says the demand infringes on the Kingdom’s sovereignty.
A fact-finding team sent by the EU to analyse whether Cambodia should lose its EBA trade status arrived in the Kingdom on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ket Sophann said Mr Sokhonn’s statement was made during a meeting yesterday with the EU delegation, which is led by Jean Christophe Belliard, deputy secretary-general of the European External Action Service.
Mr Sophann said the minister noted that the government is concerned over the welfare and livelihoods of thousands of Cambodians who benefit from the EBA scheme, but it will not exchange sovereignty for EBA access.
“Because the government truly cares, we are willing to do many things to prevent the revocation of the EBA,” Mr Sophann quoted Mr Sokhonn as saying. “However, there is a red line in which the government will not exchange its sovereignty for access to the EBA.”
Mr Sophann noted that Mr Sokhonn also told the delegation that former CNRP president Kem Sokha was released on bail, but his charges could not be dropped as the case is still being handled by the court.
“Some foreign countries called to drop his charges, which is the jurisdiction of the court,” Mr Sophann quoted Mr Sokhonn as saying. “This clearly infringes upon Cambodia’s sovereignty.”
He added that Mr Sokhonn also highlighted the Kingdom’s rapid development and progress the government has made in relation to the strengthening of political and civil society spaces, the promotion of labour rights and the handling of land issues.
Outgoing EU Ambassador George Edgar declined to comment on the meetings and discussions yesterday.
Soeng Sen Karuna, a senior investigator with the rights group Adhoc, yesterday said a dozen civil society groups spent two days discussing concerns over human and labour rights violations and land issues with the EU delegation.
“We updated the EU delegation on the situation in Cambodia pertaining to these problems,” Mr Sen Karuna said. “They had many questions, but they did not express opinions. They just gathered information from us.”
The EU delegation is scheduled today to meet representatives of the Ministries of Interior, Justice, Land Management and Labour, Mr Sophann said.