BRUSSELS – The European Union’s trade commissioner has acknowledged there are “worrying developments” on the human rights front in three key apparel sourcing hubs with major exports to the EU – Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia. Cecilia Malmström made the comments as the European Union and Vietnam signed a landmark free trade agreement (FTA) that will eventually phase out almost all tariffs on goods that flow between the trading bloc and the Southeast Asian nation. The EU believes such free trade deals, which come with human and labour rights caveats, can help “create a platform to engage on human rights.” This is despite overwhelming evidence from several beneficiary countries that trade sweeteners of this nature have little or no impact in terms of improving human rights and, in many cases – see above – have actually seen such situations deteriorate.
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In a statement, European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmströ said: “We are concerned about some of the human rights situations in Vietnam, and of course, a trade agreement is not going to take all that away, but it creates a platform together with the association agreement to continue to engage.
“With Myanmar, Cambodia, and Bangladesh, we are looking at them specifically because there have been worrying developments in human rights in all these three countries. The formal procedure has not been initiated with Myanmar yet, but we have warned them that it could be.
The EU has also recently sent delegations that included representatives over EBA preferences to both Cambodia and Myanmar.”
Asked for on update on the current situation in Cambodia, Malmström said: “That is part of the process … of a possible withdrawal of the EBA preferences in Cambodia because of violations of human rights, labour rights, and other issues. …This will result in a report, and then the Cambodian authorities have until mid-August to respond.
“We do think that compared to a few years ago, the situation is going backwards…. That’s why we have issued this very serious warning. But still the process is not completed yet.”
Regarding Myanmar, Malmström said: “We’ve had ministers [come] here for meetings, and I have met with them, and my colleagues have met with them as well. As I said, we have the special envoy now in Myanmar to talk about these things, but we are very worried about the situation. There are reports coming all the time that the refugee situation is not getting any better, and the violence against the Rohingyas might be a little bit less than what it was a year ago, but it’s still very much there.”