BRUSSELS – The EU has started the process that could lead to the suspension of Cambodia’s preferential access to the EU market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme due to the country’s persistent flouting of core human and labour rights. Textile and footwear represent more than half of Cambodia’s exports to the EU, and losing such trade sweeteners would come as a huge hammer blow for local garment manufacturers, many of which supply Western brands.
The EU says this is a temporary withdrawal procedure that does not entail an immediate removal of tariff preferences, which would be the option of last resort. Instead, the EU says it kicks off a period of intensive monitoring and engagement.
High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini said: “Over the last eighteen months, we have seen the deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia. In February 2018, the EU Foreign Affairs Ministers made clear how seriously the EU views these developments. In recent months, the Cambodian authorities have taken a number of positive steps, including the release of political figures, civil society activists and journalists and addressing some of the restrictions on civil society and trade union activities.
“However, without more conclusive action from the government, the situation on the ground calls Cambodia’s participation in the EBA scheme into question. As the European Union, we are committed to a partnership with Cambodia that delivers for the Cambodian people. Our support for democracy and human rights in the country is at the heart of this partnership.”
EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “It should be clear that today’s move is neither a final decision nor the end of the process. But the clock is now officially ticking and we need to see real action soon. We now go into a monitoring and evaluation process in which we are ready to engage fully with the Cambodian authorities and work with them to find a way forward.”
Following a period of enhanced engagement, including a fact-finding mission to Cambodia in July 2018 and subsequent bilateral meetings at the highest level, the Commission has concluded that there is evidence of serious and systematic violations of core human rights and labour rights in Cambodia, in particular of the rights to political participation as well as of the freedoms of assembly, expression and association. These findings add to the longstanding EU concerns about the lack of workers’ rights and disputes linked to economic land concessions in the country.
The decision begins a process that aims to arrive at a situation in which Cambodia is in line with its obligations under the core UN and ILO Conventions. It will see:
– A six-month period of intensive monitoring and engagement with the Cambodian authorities
– Followed by another three-month period for the EU to produce a report based on the findings;
– After twelve months, the Commission will conclude the procedure with a final decision on whether or not to withdraw tariff preferences; it is also at this stage that the Commission will decide the scope and duration of the withdrawal. Any withdrawal would come into effect after a further six-month period.