A senior commerce ministry official has called on the United States to carefully consider the consequences of imposing trade sanctions on Cambodia over its human rights record.
Two US congressmen, Alan Lowenthal, and Steve Chabot, this week filed a bill that proposes the US government consider removing Cambodia from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a preferential trade scheme.
Seang Thay, a commerce spokesman, said on Wednesday that the US should not rush to judgment and first look at “the happy faces” of garment workers.
“It’s merely a request that they come and look in every corner [of the country],” he said. “It’s improper to listen to just one person, two people, three people, or four people. They should come and see what’s going on with Cambodians.”
Thay added that the economic impact of removing Cambodia from the GSP would be devastating.
He added that if the motivation behind the move was a perceived democratic deficit, Washington should reconsider. “It doesn’t mean that Cambodia is not grateful for what we have been given so far, such as tax exemptions on some goods, but we paid tax on other goods,” he said.
Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, and Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), could not be reached for comment.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, said the GSP was essential for the Cambodian economy, along with the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme, which is also under review.
“Cambodia must not let them happen at the same time, both the EBA and GSP,” he said.
Under the GSP, Cambodia has received preferential trade status since 1997. The country exported $400 million in garments and textile products to the United States duty-free last year, according to GMAC.