The EU “had never envisaged to put trade sanction on Cambodia and other countries in Asia alike”, the bloc’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said last week.
In an interview with the Nikkei Asian Review on July 31, Mogherini – who is also the Vice-President of the European Commission – was asked whether the EU’s possible sanctions would lead to reforms in Cambodia, to which she said the Kingdom “needed to respect democracy and human rights, including labour rights”.
“This [EU’s stance on sanctions against the Kingdom] has not changed. What did change was the serious deterioration of democracy and human rights in Cambodia over the last two years.
“It is, therefore, Cambodia’s actions that led us into the situation we find ourselves in today and Cambodia’s actions that can rectify it,” she stressed.
Mogherini said the EU was engaged in an “intense dialogue” with the Cambodian authorities, and without naming them, said the EU had seen some positive steps.
“There is certainly time for Cambodia to take measures to reopen the political space and allow for democratic opposition,” she told the newspaper which is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan.
One day after the interview, on Thursday, Mogherini met with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn to discuss the EU’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement.
They met on the sidelines of the 52nd Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Related Meetings in Bangkok, Thailand.
After the meeting, Mogherini and her team issued a press release saying the meeting had discussed “the ongoing monitoring and engagement under the EU’s unilaterally granted EBA trade preferences scheme”.
“Under the scheme, Cambodia is required to respect core human rights and labour rights, and the High Representative reiterated the need for concrete and credible improvement on issues of concern,” the statement said.
Ket Sophann, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation declined to comment.
George Edgar, the outgoing EU ambassador to Cambodia said he could not provide details of the meeting.
David Daly, EU Head of Division for Southeast Asia and Asean, took to Twitter on Friday, saying: “EU-Cambodia – Good meeting between EU HRVP & Foreign Minister & DPM Prak Sokhonn of
Cambodia including on very sensitive issues.”
In February, the EU launched six months of intensive monitoring and engagement to determine whether to partially or fully withdraw the Kingdom’s preferential access to EBA, citing “concerns over Cambodia’s record against core human rights and labour rights conventions”.
The process is set to end in the coming weeks, and if EBA access is withdrawn it would see Cambodia paying tariffs on its exports to the bloc at an estimated cost to the economy of $676 million in taxes.
The EU has said Cambodia was the second largest beneficiary of EBA last year, with its goods accounting for more than 18 per cent of all imports into the single market under the agreement.
Exports from Cambodia to the EU totalled €5.3 billion ($5.8 billion) last year, with more than 95 per cent included in EBA. Of this, €4 billion was in clothing and textiles – two industries which are set to be the hardest hit if the EBA is withdrawn.