A group of labor and rights activists called on the Cambodian government to take significant actions to retain European Union trade preference ‘Everything But Arms’ after the EU’s second fact-finding mission ended last week.
The group told VOA Khmer this week that the Cambodian government needs to prove to the EU with actions, by restoring democracy and human rights in the country in exchange for the EBA trade preference.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central), said he believes that EU does not intend to withdraw Cambodia from its trade preference but the community wants an end to repression on political rights and other fundamental rights in Cambodia.
“Based on my observation, I think, the EU does not want to withdraw it [EBA]. Thus, in the middle of August, they will produce a report, and they will say Cambodia will have one month to appeal their findings,” said Moeun Tola, adding that it is time for the Cambodian government to take concrete actions in response to the European community’s requirements.
He suggested that the Cambodian government should provide full freedom to opposition politicians and open space for an independent press.
“The urgent tasks that have to be done … are releasing all political prisoners and providing freedom to independent radios or press, so that they could perform their work in the country,” suggested Moeun Tola.
Following a systematic crackdown by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in late 2017, the EU announced a procedure to temporarily withdraw Cambodia from its EBA trade benefits, giving Cambodia eighteen months to reverse its course.
Last week, a second EU delegate ended their eight-day fact-finding mission to review the latest developments of Cambodia’s democratic progress and respect for human rights before the Union takes further actions against Cambodia.
In a statement issued on June 11, the EU said the mission was part of monitoring and evaluation under the procedure that could lead to the temporary withdrawal of Cambodia’s Every But Arms preferences following concerns over Cambodia’s record on core human rights and labor rights conventions.
“Cambodia must show real, credible improvement on the issues of concern in order to avoid the withdrawal of EBA preferences,” the statement read.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager for local human rights group Licadho, told VOA Khmer that the Cambodian government always promises to respond to EU’s requests but that there have been no specific actions taken so far.
“Our government or Cambodia should prove with real actions to tackle issues of democracy or restore democracy or human rights in Cambodia, making it better,” he said. “Only the government and the ruling party can handle all these issues, which means the ruling party is the key to clear all of these issues.”
In late 2017, Cambodia’s supreme court, which is dominated by members of the ruling party, made a landmark decision to dissolve Cambodia’s biggest opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party. The court has further banned 108 senior members of CNRP from all types of political activities for five years.
Ket Sophann, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, couldn’t be reached for comment.
He, however, had previously confirmed with VOA Khmer, following a meeting between Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon and the EU Commission, that the Cambodian government will try its utmost to retain EBA, which supports about 700,000 workers in the country’s textile industry.
EU is Cambodia’s biggest export market, mainly products from its garment industry.
According to an EU statement, Cambodia is the second largest beneficiary of EBA trade preferences, accounting for over 18 percent of all imports coming into the EU market under EBA preferences in 2018.
The EU imports Cambodian products which are worth up to $5.9 billion in 2018 alone, which took over 95 percent advantages of EBA preferences. Clothing and textiles account for three-quarters of EU imports from Cambodia were worth up to $4 billion.