Cambodia’s foreign ministry has dispatched a diplomatic team to the European Union in the hopes of lobbying to stop the EU removing Cambodia from the Everything But Arms preferential trade agreement.
The agreement provides Cambodia with easy access to EU markets for its products, but the EU has threatened to remove Cambodia from the scheme over the dissolution of the country’s main opposition party ahead of a general election in July and a wider crackdown on civil society and the opposition.
The delegation will be led by Sok Siphana, a respected lawyer and adviser to the government.
“Cambodia wishes to manifest through the dispatch of this mission, our goals are to have a straightforward dialogue with EU since we consider EU an important partner enjoy strong cooperation with Cambodia,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Cambodia claims that it should not be punished for banning the opposition and its restrictions on the media and civil society groups because it says the moves were legal under Cambodian law.
George Edgar, EU ambassador to Cambodia, could not be reached for comment.
The EU Parliament voted in December to consider suspending Cambodia’s membership of the Everything But Arms scheme.
Meas Nee, a social development researcher, said the delegation was unlikely to sway the minds of EU officials without concrete policy changes.
“The biggest issue in our country is the dissolution of the CNRP, which received support from more than 3 million Cambodians. This is where it gets complicated because the EU considers it unacceptable and a move away from democracy if we don’t resolve it,” he said.
He added that Cambodia’s removal from the scheme would be a huge blow to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government. Although Cambodia has come to rely more on China for investment, it still relies on the EU and United States for the majority of its garment exports, a crucial industry supporting hundreds of thousands of workers.