Prime Minister Hun Sen called on World Trade Organisation (WTO) member states and development partners “to give close consideration” before removing preferential trade status from Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
Speaking at the opening of the WTO’s 2019 Global Review of Aid for Trade in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday, Hun Sen said that the continuation and enhancement of trade preferences – whether bilateral or unilateral – was essential for LDCs to achieve their development goals.
He said that after joining the WTO in 2004, Cambodia has accomplished many achievements and enjoyed annual economic growth of around 7.7 per cent over the past two decades.
He added that the Kingdom advanced from a low-income country into a lower-middle-income country in 2015, and at the current rate is set to become an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050.
“In order to achieve this outlook, a preferential [trade] system between member states and development partners is key."
“Suspension or withdrawal [of trade preferences] will not allow [LDCs] to help the world achieve its sustainable development goals. It will not help them progress from LDC status,” Hun Sen said, referring to the potential withdrawal of the EU’s “Everything But Arms” trade preferences from the Kingdom.
The EU has claimed that the move is in response to “a deterioration of democracy [and] respect for human rights” in the Kingdom, but Hun Sen said on Wednesday the move is in “complete contrast” with UN and WTO principles.
In January, the EU also imposed tariffs on Cambodia and Myanmar’s rice exports into the bloc following complaints from Italy and Spain amid a slowdown in their rice industries.
The Kingdom’s access to the US’ preferential trade treatment granted under the General System of Preferences also looks under threat, as US lawmakers have also expressed concern over what they perceive to be a shrinking of democracy and freedom in Cambodia.
Centre for Policy Studies director Chan Sophal said the preferential system is crucial for developing countries to export goods to major markets and prosperous economies.
Hun Sen also called on WTO member states and developing partners to provide further support by strengthening the competitiveness of LDCs, launching support programmes for them to graduate from LDC status, and building their capacity to take advantage of new sources for economic growth – especially during the ongoing Industry 4.0 revolution.