Cambodia trade preferences to be suspended

Cambodia trade preferences
© iStock/tbradford

The EU has begun the process to suspend the preferential trade arrangements accorded to Cambodia after finding systematic human rights violations.

In the wake of a fact-finding mission to Cambodia by EU representatives in July 2018 and several subsequent high-level meetings, the European Commission has determined that Cambodian citizens have been repeatedly and regularly denied a number of fundamental rights, including freedoms of assembly and association, the right to political participation and labour organisation; and the right of free expression. The EU has long been concerned about workers’ rights and land disputes in Cambodia, whose current “Everything But Arms” (EBA) deal with the bloc is dependent on its demonstrating a degree of commitment to the EU’s human rights principles.

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. When we say that the EU’s trade policy is based on values, these are not just empty words. We are proud to be one of the world’s most open markets for least developed countries and the evidence shows that exporting to the EU Single Market can give a huge boost to their economies. Nevertheless, in return we ask that these countries respect certain core principles. Our engagement with the situation in Cambodia has led us to conclude that there are severe deficiencies when it comes to human rights and labour rights in Cambodia that the government needs to tackle if it wants to keep its country’s privileged access to our market.”

The EU will now engage in an “intensive” six-month period of engaging with Cambodian authorities and closely monitoring the situation on the ground, after which representatives will have three months in which to produce a report on the country’s progress. Cambodia will still be able to make use of its current EU trade tariff arrangements while investigations are ongoing.

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