While Cambodia accepts the European Commission’s recommendation for the partial suspension of the Kingdom’s Everything-but-arms (EBA) trade status, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the European Union should also respect the Kingdom’s stance.
The EC announced its recommendation of partial suspension on February 12 after deeming Cambodia’s efforts to mitigate serious and systemic violations of human rights to be insufficient.
Unless the European Parliament and the Council object, the suspension will take effect on August 12.
Speaking yesterday at the capital’s National Institute of Education, Mr Hun Sen called on the EU to respect the Kingdom’s actions regarding human rights and democracy.
“I accept your decision. It is your right,” he said. “But I ask you to accept the decision of Cambodia as well. I have no comments!”
The EU reiterated that the Cambodian Government needs to re-open the political space and create the necessary conditions for the re-establishment of a credible opposition party, but the government has repeatedly asked the EU to respect the principles of sovereignty and non-interference into Cambodia’s internal affairs.
In response Mr Hun Sen said: “We have already passed through many difficulties. We will stand up for ourselves if they want us to pay tax. Please pay for them, which is just more than $1 billion. We still have the EU market where we could export our goods.”
“If you give [the preferential scheme], we’ll take it. If not, no problem.”
Mr Hun Sen said he will release his other official statement on EBA by month’s end.
Despite the risk of EBA withdrawal, Mr Hun Sen instead expressed concern over the negative impact of the COVID-19 scare in the country’s economy, particularly the tourism sector.
“Our economic growth is predicted to drop to 6.5 percent but it is not because of the partial removal of the EBA status. We still have the EU market,” he said.
According to the EU, the Kingdom’s exports under EBA accounted for 45 percent in 2018, amounting to $5.8 billion.
The tariffs would be introduced on 20 percent of selected garment products and 30 percent of selected footwear products. Bicycle and rice imports will not face any impact from the recommendation.
In a press release, the Cambodia Footwear Association (CFA) said the move “wrongly targets Cambodia’s footwear sector”.
It noted the proposed partial withdrawal of EBA, which benefits some 30 percent of the Kingdom’s footwear exports to the EU, poses a “dramatic setback for the sector” and its workforce, comprised predominantly of women.
“In fact, it is clear that the decision to partially withdraw preferences is not the consequence of workers’ rights concerns or lack of compliance in our sector, but other issues outside of the footwear sector,” the statement said.
“Suspending EBA benefits for Cambodian footwear products will result in large job losses across the industry and will considerably hurt the industry’s workforce,” said CFA deputy secretary-general Ngoun Channara.
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) on Monday also expressed its disappointment with the partial suspension of the Kingdom’s EBA.
“We urge the European Commission and members of the European Parliament to reconsider their decision by taking into account the values and goals the programme was based on when it was put in place nearly 20 years ago,” GMAC said in its statement.