Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday concluded his trip to Eastern Europe and is bringing home the support of three countries in regards to an ongoing review of the Kingdom’s Everything-but-arms trade status.
The Kingdom’s status is currently under review by the European Commission over perceived setbacks to human rights and democracy following the dissolution of the CNRP. The EC is currently drafting conclusions and the Kingdom will know whether it will lose access by February.
During his trip to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria, Mr Hun Sen discussed the review with the leaders of each country, lobbying for support to retain the EBA, which is vital for the Kingdom’s economy and the livelihoods of the garment sector’s nearly 800,000 workers.
Mr Hun Sen yesterday ended his trip in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, where he met Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and President Rumen Radev.
Kao Kim Hourn, Minister Delegate Attached to the Prime Minister, yesterday said Bulgaria expressed intent to support the Kingdom’s EBA status.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia is faced with a challenge from the EU,” Mr Kim Hourn said. “Regarding the EBA issue, he requested Bulgaria…to help Cambodia and push the EU to treat Cambodia fairly.”
“Mr Hun Sen wants justice before the EU makes a decision. There’s no setback to the Kingdom’s democratic progress – we had a good national election in 2018,” he added. “He wants Bulgaria to back Cambodia on this issue.”
Mr Kim Hourn said Mr Radev accepted Mr Hun Sen’s request.
“In response, His Excellency the President said ‘Bulgaria highly values relations between our nations’,” he said. “As for the EBA issue, he [Mr Radev] said Bulgaria will support Cambodia and fight for Cambodia to have stability.”
Mr Kim Hourn added that Mr Hun Sen responded by expressing gratitude.
Mr Kim Hourn earlier this week said that the Hungarian government reaffirmed its support for the Kingdom’s EBA status during a closed-door meeting between Mr Hun Sen and President János Áder in Budapest on Tuesday.
On Monday, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš also pledged to support the Kingdom’s efforts to retain its EBA status during a meeting with Mr Hun Sen.
“Concerning the process of the withdrawal of the [EBA] by the European Commission, [Mr Babiš] considered the [EBA] as highly efficient assistance provided to developing countries,” a Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry statement said yesterday. “He [Mr Babiš] hoped that such a measure by the European Commission will not have to come and that Cambodia would demonstrate positive progress in the field of human rights.”
With duty-free access under the EBA, the EU is Cambodia’s biggest market for textile and garment products.
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.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said the government is attempting to save the EBA because it has benefits to the Kingdom’s economic growth.
“Our stance is that we are trying to keep the EBA, but if not, let it be,” Mr Siphan said. “Our efforts are also focused on finding justice for our nation.”