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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Long haul to MFN

Long haul to MFN

Expectations began to grow in 1994 when Cambodia and the United States signed a bilateral

trade agreement that allowed Cambodia to be considered for Most Favored Nation (MFN)

status. At that time no one thought it would take two years for the trade privilege

to be granted.

In late 1994 and early 1995, however, several Congressmen and human rights organizations

voiced concerns of human rights abuses. In particular, these groups argued that by

removing Sam Rainsy from his position as finance minister, Cambodia was backsliding

to authoritarianism.

Opposed by the US State Department, they sought to attach conditions to MFN. Conditions

could have required that MFN be renewed every six months upon determining that Cambodia

met certain criteria.

In August 1995, the US House of Representatives finally passed MFN without conditions.

Shortly thereafter, former Foreign Minister Prince Norodom Sirivudh was charged with

treason and expelled from the country. The debate on Cambodia's progress towards

democracy was reopened.

In March 1996, it passed a non-binding resolution urging the "Secretary of State

to make human rights among the primary objectives in its bilateral relations."

Among specific concerns, the resolution cited the expulsion of former Finance Minister

Rainsy from the National Assembly, the arrest and exile of former Foreign Minister

Prince Sirivudh, mob attacks against opposition newspapers, and a grenade attack

against opposition party Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP)

On May 8, 1996 the Senate Finance Committee passed MFN without conditions paving

the way for consideration by the full Senate. Ten days later, the publisher of Khmer

Ideal newspaper and a steering-committee member of the Khmer Nation Party (KNP) Thun

Bun Ly was killed. US Senator Roth said that the slaying would prompt Senators to

intensify debate about unconditional MFN for Cambodia.

Proponents of unconditional MFN for Cambodia won the day, however, and rather than

attaching conditions, the Senate also chose to issue a non-binding resolution on

human rights concerns.

The MFN legislation then became caught up in trade legislation in which Senator Bob

Graham (R-FL) sought protection of Florida-grown tomatoes against Mexican tomatoes.

In May-June, a lobbying group comprised of businessmen and government officials made

a 45-day trip to Washington to lobby the Clinton Administration and the US Congress.

The full Senate passed MFN without conditions on July 25. That was followed by negotiations

between the House and Senate on a compromise version of the legislation.

At long last, President Bill Clinton signed the bill on Sept 25.

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