The EU Commission on Wednesday announced the partial withdrawal of the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme, citing a serious and systematic violation by Cambodia of principles in the four core human and labour rights.
The suspension affects one-fifth or €1 billion ($1.08 billion) of Cambodia’s annual exports to the EU’s 27-nation bloc.
The decision would take effect on August 12, unless the Parliament objects. The partial withdrawal would affect selected garment and footwear products, and all travel goods and sugar, the EU Commission press release said.
High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell said violation of human rights and political rights in Cambodia, freedom of expression and association left the EU with no other choice than to partially withdraw the scheme.
“The European Union will not stand and watch as democracy is eroded, human rights curtailed, and free debate silenced.
“Today’s decision reflects our strong commitment to the Cambodian people, their rights, and the country’s sustainable development. For the trade preferences to be reinstated, the Cambodian authorities need to take the necessary measures,” he said.
Recognising the need to continue supporting Cambodia’s economic development and diversification of its exports, the EU said all emerging industries in Cambodia would continue enjoying duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market.
High value-added garments and certain types of footwear would also continue to enjoy duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market, it said in a press release.
The EU said the Cambodian government had made progress in the area of labour rights and land rights.
But many areas still needed to be resolved, including criminal cases against trade unionists, the re-opening of political space, reinstatement of the political rights of members of a former opposition party, the repeal of laws governing political parties, and the Law on Association and Non-governmental Organisations.
“In case Cambodia shows significant progress, notably on civil and political rights, the Commission may review its decision and reinstate tariff preferences under the EBA arrangement,” the EU press release said.
A document on the decision received by The Post said the EU Commission had decided to amend Annexes II and IV of the GSP Regulation which lists certain products in the Delegated Regulation.
According to the same document, 40 products listed under Harmonised System (“HS”) codes are suspended.
The products are estimated to be worth around €1 billion and will be subject to between 1.7 and 12 per cent tax.
In its findings on political rights, the EU detailed the case against former opposition leader Kem Sokha, the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and the ban of its members from political activities.
It said the EU Commission took into account the progress made by Cambodia since the initiation of the temporary withdrawal procedure, also the positive cooperation with Cambodia throughout the process.
Commenting on his Facebook page, the deputy secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturer’s Association in Cambodia (GMAC) Kaing Monika wrote: “Congratulations on the bicycle production sector that is not affected. The EU has really contributed to the diversification of the Cambodian economy.
“They expect that we will lose it entirely but on the contrary, 80 per cent of collective interests has been protected. This is the result that we can be pleased with.”
But Sok Touch, the president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia called the decision “a wakeup call for the Kingdom”.
“The withdrawal, even just a part of it, is a message to Cambodia to think about what the EU wants. It is normal that we have to protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity, but you have to remember that there is no donation without a purpose and strings are always attached,” he said.
Touch said all garment and footwear factories in Cambodia are foreign investments while Cambodia only offers its labour force. Therefore, the impact of partially losing EBA affects our workers.
This, he said, could be solved by creating jobs in other sectors like agriculture.
The EU said exports from Cambodia reached €5.4 billion in 2018, 95.7 per cent or €5.2 billion out of the total €5.4 billion that entered the EU market under the EBA scheme.