The European Union has concluded a fact-finding visit to Cambodia to assess its membership of a vital preferential trade scheme in light of widespread allegations of anti-democratic actions and human rights abuses by the government.
George Edgar, E.U. ambassador, said EU officials had met a range of stakeholders during their visit, including officials, civil society representatives, and members of the private sector.
“The purpose of the mission was to learn more about the situation in Cambodia in terms of human rights and labor rights, in the context of the E.U.'s enhanced engagement with Cambodia under the Everything But Arms [EBA] arrangement,” he said.
“The information gathered by the mission will feed into the decision-making process in the European Commission and the European External Action Service,” he added.
The fact-finding mission began on July 5 in response to an alleged anti-democratic crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of a general election on July 29.
Cecilia Malmstrom, an E.U. commissioner for trade, said in a statement on Thursday that Brussels would use the information gathered during the visit to inform decision-making.
“The discussion and information gathering during our E.U. mission has focused on the serious decline in the area of political and electoral rights, as well as a curbing of civil society activities. There are also deficiencies when it comes to land dispute resolution mechanism, and serious threats to freedom of association and collective bargaining rights,” she was quoted as saying in the statement.
“Removing Cambodia from the trading scheme is a measure of last resort if all our other efforts have failed to address these concerns,” she added.
Commerce Ministry officials could not be reached for comment. Sok Eysan, ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman, and Chum Sounry, foreign affairs spokesman, also could not be reached.
Cambodia previously dispatched a delegation to the E.U. led by prominent lawyer and government adviser Sok Siphana to lobby officials to keep Cambodia in the EBA scheme.
Khun Tharo, labor officer with NGO Central, said the government should have used the opportunity to open a dialogue with the E.U. on trade.
“The government should think about it carefully because it's a vital point that would harm the jobs of workers and Cambodia's economy,” he said.
“The question is the ability [of the government] in resisting this or what has been prepared for the future if the government didn't prove its stance to deal with what the European Union worries [about],” he added.