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BRUSSELS – Cambodia is on the brink of losing duty-free trading access to the European Union. European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström has issued a press briefing saying the EU has notified the country 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 EU is comfortably Cambodia’s largest market for garment exports.

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 revealed the news in a statement which also pointed the finger at Myanmar where, she said, “we have seen a deeply worrying and worsening situation for the Rohingya minority … the country’s leadership has repeatedly disregarded calls from the EU and the international community to put a stop to this.”

The Commissioner said the European Commission and European External Action Service are to send an emergency, high-level EU mission to Myanmar in the coming days to assess the situation on the ground. “This high-level mission is within the framework of a potential withdrawal of Myanmar from the Everything But Arms arrangement,” she said. “There is a clear possibility that a withdrawal could be the outcome.”

The situation is even more serious for Cambodia, she suggested, adding: “In 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.

“Many of the issues here date back several years, and in some cases the country has gone backwards. The elections in July of this year – coming after our EU mission to the country – were marked by harassment and intimidation, as well as severe restrictions when it comes to essential political rights. Today, High Representative Federica Mogherini and I have therefore notified Cambodia that we are launching the process for the withdrawal of their Everything But Arms preferences.”

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