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Unions Plan Mass Strike Over Possible EU Trade Scheme Removal

FILE PHOTO - Cambodian garment workers work inside a factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 10, 2004.

The EU is Cambodia's largest export market, with garment exports to the EU alone amounting to about $700 million annually.

A prominent unionist has announced a large-scale demonstration if the newly formed government ignores a European Union resolution that threatens to end Cambodia’s tariff-free access to EU markets if the government does not improve the democratic process.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) and a former National Election Committee member, said the government must take action to avoid Cambodia’s suspension from the Everything But Arms preferential trade scheme.

"The benefits are for everyone, together..., but we are non-violent. And the only goal is that we want to raise the issue to avoid an economic crisis in Cambodia and keep jobs for the workers,” he said.

He added that he was concerned for the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of garment sector workers who could lose their jobs if factories left Cambodia after its removal from the scheme.

"When this happens, the social situation could be difficult. This means that social instability causes our society to become insecure, and that's the problem we are stressing. So, in order to avoid any problems, the government must think and adapt to the requests of the European Union. "

The EU is Cambodia's largest export market, with garment exports to the EU alone amounting to about $700 million annually.

Last week the European Parliament voted for a resolution calling for political freedoms in Cambodia and further sanctions against the government. A fact-finding mission dispatched from Brussels to Phnom Penh has yet to report back its findings, which will be used to determine whether Cambodia should remain a part of the trading scheme.

The government has claimed that it would find other markets to export Cambodian products to in the event it was removed from the EBA scheme, but no other markets come close to meeting the demand, with the position of the second-largest export market, the US, also in question. Together, exports to the EU and US make up the vast majority of all Cambodian textiles exports.

Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, warned Chhun that he had to “co-operate with the authorities” if he was planning to organize a demonstration or officials would “take action”.