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PHNOM PENH: Proposals by the EU to strip Cambodia of its trading benefits over human rights concerns have been slammed by the country’s Foreign Ministery. “The Cambodian government can only take this decision as an extreme injustice when the EU blatantly disregards the considerable progress made by the country, despite its recent tragic past,” Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. “By implementing these withdrawal measures, the European Commission risks negating twenty year’s worth of development efforts,” the Ministry added.

Last week European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström issued a press briefing saying the EU has notified Cambodia it is launching the process for the withdrawal of its Everything But Arms preferences. “Without clear and evident improvements on the ground, this will lead to the suspending of the trade preferences that they currently enjoy,” the Swedish Commissioner said.

The Everything But Arms arrangement, or EBA, guarantees completely tariff-free access to the European market for all exports except for weapons and ammunition. It is a hugely important source of competitive advantage for countries such as Cambodia.

The Commissioner added: “Cambodia, meanwhile, we are seeing very troubling developments with a clear deterioration of human rights and labour rights, without convincing improvements in sight. Our recent EU mission to the country demonstrated serious and systemic violations of, for instance, freedom of expression, labour rights and freedom of association. This comes on top of longstanding issues as regards workers’ rights and land-grabbing.”

Cambodia’s exports to the European Union were worth €5bn last year, with apparel being the country’s largest export sector. The economic repercussions of higher tariffs on Cambodia-produced goods could be huge. Garment exports account for around 40 per cent of Cambodia’s GDP, and garment manufacturing is Cambodia’s biggest industry, accounting for 800,000 jobs.

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