Prime Minister Hun Sen has played down the possible significance of the EU withdrawing Cambodia’s preferential trade treatment over human rights concerns.
As EU officials arrived in Cambodia to assess the situation, Hun Sen told garment workers in Pursat province the Cambodian economy could stay afloat without the added competitiveness provided by the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.
Speaking on Wednesday, Hun Sen said: If they grant us the free trade scheme, we cannot become a rich country, but if they withdraw it, we are also not going to die.”
The EU delegation, led by Paola Pampaloni, a senior EU foreign affairs official for Asia and the Pacific, will report its findings to Brussels in the coming weeks. The EU has given Cambodia until 2021 to reverse course after Hun Sen oversaw the jailing of political opponents and a widespread crackdown on civil society ahead of elections in 2018.
Despite Hun Sen’s comments, a statement from Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhon suggested some in government were less welcoming of the prospect of Cambodia’s expulsion from the scheme.
“The minister said that EBA is very important for Cambodia’s economy. It has improved more than 600,000 garment factory workers’ livelihoods and 2 million of those who depend on them,” the statement reads.
“In conclusion, both parties have indicated the same stance in keeping EBA and maintaining the tie between EU and Cambodia.”
Pampaloni also reportedly met Interior Minister Sar Kheng last week.
Dozens of Cambodian NGOs have signed a statement urging the government to meet the EU’s conditions for retention of its EBA membership.