U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Chris Coons on Wednesday introduced a new trade bill that would require the Trump administration to review the preferential trade agreement with Cambodia.
Cambodia currently receives preferential trade treatment under the General System of Preferences (GSP), but the deteriorating political situation in the Kingdom has prompted the E.U. and now possibly the United States to reassess the situation.
"America has invested in the political future of Cambodia by establishing reliable trade and commerce," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a press release. "Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen has exploited preferential treatment afforded to it by the United States and Europe. He has failed to meet basic labor rights standards, undermined the integrity of elections in Cambodia, and tilted toward China.”
“The Cambodian Trade Act aims to hold him and his government accountable for this behavior, and reinforces steps our European partners are taking," he added.
Cambodia became a GSP beneficiary in 1997 and in 2016 exported nearly $179 million duty-free to the United States under the program. Under the GSP program, certain products from 120 beneficiary developing countries and territories can enter the United States duty-free. The US renewed Cambodia’s GSP status in April last year.
Hun Sen won a landslide victory in a general election last year after his ruling Cambodian People’s Party oversaw a clampdown on freedom of assembly, the shuttering of several independent media outlets and civil society groups, and the banning of the country’s main opposition party, his only challenger at the polls.
Kem Sokha, the former opposition leader, remains under house arrest after being charged with treason for receiving political advice from the United States and spending a year in pre-trial detention in a remote prison.
"I question whether Cambodia should have preferential access to U.S. markets," Sen. Coons said. "Countries that undermine democracy, ignore labor standards, disregard human rights, and fail to protect intellectual property should not enjoy special trade privileges. During his 34-year reign, Hun Sen has shown his disdain for the rule of law and basic freedoms in Cambodia.”
The US is Cambodia’s second largest export market. Cambodia exported over $3 billion in goods to the US last year.
The EU has already started a process to suspend its preferential trading arrangements with Cambodia, known as Everything But Arms.