Improvements to gender equality and labour rights were among initiatives highlighted by the government in its official response yesterday to a European Commission report on the possible suspension of the Kingdom’s Everything-but-arms trade status.
“The final response is a comprehensive report on the actions and measures undertaken by the Royal Government to respond to all areas of concern of the European Commission, in particular respecting the right to political participation, land rights, freedom of expression and freedom of association,” the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement yesterday.
“The Royal Government expects that the European Commission will take into consideration the government’s good efforts to implement all the relevant international conventions under the EBA regulations, the potential social impact of nearly one million female workers and the indirect effect on families and relatives supported by these workers’ wages, as well as respect the principles of sovereignty and non-interference into Cambodia’s internal affairs,” it added.
Luy David, secretary of state at the ministry, yesterday said the government’s response was handed over to EU Ambassador Carmen Moreno.
The EC in February launched a period of intensive monitoring and engagement that could lead to the temporary suspension of the EBA.
It said the government must restore democracy and rule of law while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, referring to the dissolution of the CNRP and the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha on treason charges. It also demanded the government stop crackdowns on civil society organisations and free press.
The EC on November 12 issued a preliminary report outlining improvements to rights the government needed to make to retain the Kingdom’s status. It gave the government one month to respond.
Maja Kocijančič, then-spokeswoman for the EU’s foreign affairs and security policy department, said in a statement last month the EC expects the government to reinstate the political rights of all former opposition party members.
“We expect Kem Sokha to be fully released and his political rights reinstated so that he can play a full part in political life,” she said. “We also expect the Cambodian authorities to reinstate the political rights of all opposition members banned from political life and to fully release all opposition members, supporters and activists recently put under detention.”
However, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday reiterated that the Kingdom will not fold to EU demands, noting the government cannot interfere in the judicial system to have charges dropped against Sokha.
“If they want to cut it, let them cut it,” Mr Hun Sen said. “It is your right to do so, we have no choice. We cannot follow your concerns. Sorry.”
The Kingdom is the second-largest beneficiary of EBA trade preferences, accounting for over 18 percent of all imports coming into the EU market under the EBA scheme last year.
EU imports from the Kingdom reached $5.9 billion in 2018, 95 percent of which entered the EU duty-free, taking advantage of EBA preferences. Clothing and textiles account for about three-quarters of EU imports from Cambodia, reaching $4.45 billion.
Sok Touch, president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, yesterday said the EU must carefully consider suspending the EBA.
“If the EU chooses to withdraw EBA in its final decision, nearly one million garment workers will be the first to be affected,” Mr Touch said. “It seems they are pushing Cambodia to be closer with China and Russia and other nations willing to give benefits to the Kingdom.”
“Whatever the EU wants, be it freedom of expression, the reinstatement of the former opposition party or a better judicial system, it is likely not going to happen,” he added. “The one who is pushing for more problems is the EU, not Cambodia.”
The EC will make its final decision on suspending the EBA in February.