The European Commission has issued a statement calling on the government to show credible improvements on issues of concern in order to avoid the withdrawal of Everything-but-arms trade preferences.
An EC and European External Action Service delegation wrapped up a visit to the Kingdom on Monday and issued a statement on Tuesday regarding its ongoing review of the Kingdom’s right to access the EBA.
In the statement, the EC highlighted concerns regarding the violation and potential violation of political rights, freedom of expression, freedom of association, rights to organise and collective bargaining and dispossession of families caused by economic land concessions.
“The mission was part of the monitoring and evaluation under the procedure that could lead to the temporary withdrawal of Cambodia’s trade preferences under the EU’s EBA trade scheme,” the statement said. “[The mission followed] concerns over Cambodia’s record against core human rights and labour rights conventions.”
“The EU’s aim is to address the human rights and labour rights concerns. The EU is committed to work with the Cambodian authorities to achieve this,” it added. “Cambodia must show real, credible improvement on issues of concern in order to avoid the withdrawal of EBA preferences.”
The EC noted that steps toward improving compliance have been taken by the government and it will continue to monitor the situation until mid-August.“Following that date, the EU will produce a report of its findings and conclusions,” it said. “Cambodia will have one month to reply to this report.”
Government officials in the past said Cambodia had done a number of things to improve democratic and rights spaces in the Kingdom, such as by paving the way for banned former opposition party members to return to the political arena through an amendment to the Law on Political Parties.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday thanked the EU as a partner for development in the Kingdom. However, Mr Siphan reiterated that the Kingdom will not succumb to foreign pressure.
“We will still maintain the development partnership with the EU, but holding the EBA hostage for their policy cannot be accepted,” Mr Siphan said. “We can’t accept the use of EBA to put pressure on Cambodia.”
Chhim Phal Virun, spokesman for the ruling CPP, yesterday said Cambodia has implemented its own laws, and that its independence and sovereignty should be respected.
“The important thing is whether they respect the independence and sovereignty of Cambodia or not, especially the fact that Cambodia implements its own laws,” Mr Phal Virun said. “If they do then cooperation between Cambodia and the EU will have fruitful results.”
“We can have the EBA if the EU does not meddle in the Kingdom’s internal affairs,” he added. “We are prepared for no EBA – we can’t allow it to be a political instrument for outsiders to attack our country.”
Moeun Tola, executive director for labour rights group Central, yesterday said the EU has sent a strong message to the government.
“Cambodia’s exports are still weak competitively when compared to other countries,” Mr Tola said. “The EBA and the Generalized System of Preferences are the key pillars for Cambodia to lure foreign companies to invest in the country.”
“Losing the EBA will not only make Cambodia lose export tax exception to the EU market, but it will make foreign investors less confident about the Kingdom’s business environment,” he added. “They could move to other countries where they have better infrastructure, less taxes, less corruption, and so on.”
The EU in February launched a six-month period of intensive monitoring and engagement to analyse whether Cambodia should lose its EBA trade status.
The EU and the United States demand that the government restore democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms in the wake of the CNRP being dissolved and press and civil society freedoms suppressed.
Cambodia relies on the EBA to help boost the Kingdom’s garment industry because the status allows preferential access to the EU market.
In its statement on Tuesday, the EC noted that “Cambodia is the second largest beneficiary of EBA trade preferences, accounting for over 18 percent of all imports coming into the EU market […] in 2018.”
“EU imports exports from Cambodia to the EU totalled about €5.3 billion [less than $6 billion] in 2018, with over 95 percent taking advantage of EBA preferences,” it added. “Clothing and textiles account for three quarter of EU imports from Cambodia [€4 billion, or about $4.5 billion].”