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Garment makers demand ‘amicable’ end to political row

May Kunmakara / Khmer Times Share:
A female worker uses a sewing machine at a local factory. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Representatives of the garment industry said yesterday that the escalating political row between Cambodia and certain Western countries could have serious consequences for the sector and asked both parties to work together to find a solution to the conflict that will allow business activity to continue unaffected.

Tension between Cambodia and certain Western countries – primarily the European Union and the US – has been building since the CNRP – the country’s main opposition party – was dissolved last month.

Last Thursday, the European Parliament (EP) officially asked the EU to restrict the issuance of visas to Cambodian officials and to freeze their assets in Europe.

The European parliamentary body also demanded a review of the human rights clauses of the Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement to see if a temporary suspension of the agreement is possible.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Hun Sen retaliated by threatening to prevent foreign diplomats from entering the kingdom.

Kaing Monika, the deputy secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), told Khmer Times that he is concerned by these hostile actions, and said both sides need to work together to de-escalate this situation as the well-being of the Cambodian people is the main priority for all involved.

He argued that the government and its counterparts in the West need to proceed in a sensible and diplomatic way that doesn’t affect the economic growth of the country, adding that it is this growth that has lifted thousands of Cambodians out of poverty.

“No doubt any political tension would definitely affect business, investment and trade,” Mr Monika said. “I hope that there will soon be an amicable resolution, with the EU and the US respecting Cambodian sovereignty.

“Democracy only exists with the rule of law,” he added.

Mr Monika said that a rescission of the EBA treaty with the EU will have little to no impact on the government, while severely hurting the livelihoods of workers in the garment industry.

“From the perspective of a less developed country like Cambodia, economic growth and development justify political decisions,” he said.

“The government’s economic performance needs to be acknowledged to allow peace and stability in the country that promotes economic growth and development as well as democratic reforms.”

Som Aun, the president of the National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia (NACC), met with the EU’s ambassador to Cambodia, George Edgar, on Wednesday, a day before the EP announced its resolution on the issue of sanctions to Cambodia.

“We told Mr Edgar that the garment and footwear sector provides a livelihood for thousands of workers across the nation and that we are working really hard to improve working conditions in the sector,” he told Khmer Times.

“We also told him the EU should not heed calls demanding that the EU stops ordering products from Cambodia.”

The US and the EU are the two major export markets for Cambodian garments and footwear products, accounting for nearly 65 percent of total exports in the sector in 2016.

However, as Cambodia diversifies its export markets, the share of Cambodian garment exports that go to the US and the EU is declining.

Exports to markets outside the EU and the US amounted to 35 percent in 2016, up from 28 percent in 2015. Ten years ago, it was only 11 percent. The Japanese and the Canadian markets account for the bulk of export growth to non-traditional markets.

Exports to China have also increased significantly. In 2010, China accounted for virtually zero of total exports in the sector, but it 2016 this number was up to 2.3 percent.

Total exports of garments and footwear products rose by 7.2 percent in 2016, reaching $7.3 billion, up from $6.8 billion in 2015.

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