Today (Tuesday) marks the final day for the EU Commission for Trade to receive the opinions of the EU bloc’s 28 member-states before deciding whether to suspend the Everything But Arms (EBA) tariff preferences for Cambodia.
However a unanimous decision will be required to withdraw EBA, said a source familiar with the matter. Failing unanimity, the final decision will be placed in the hands of the EU Commission for Trade itself.
EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom and the European External Action Service (EEAS) launched the internal process to start the EBA suspension procedure for Cambodia last October.
They said the decision was made due to serious concerns over developments in Cambodia in relation to respect for the rights and freedoms embodied in 15 UN and International Labour Organisation (ILO) Fundamental Conventions on human rights and labour rights.
In email interviews with The Post, spokespersons for the EU Commission for Trade and George Edgar, EU ambassador to Cambodia, said the same thing: “Internal work is still ongoing and, in the framework of the relevant regulation, the European Commission is now in the process of consulting Member States.”
But a source familiar with the EBA withdrawal procedures told The Post on condition of anonymity that the EU Commission for Trade had sought opinions from the bloc’s permanent representatives since last week and set today (January 29) as the last day to receive feedback.
“A week ago, the EU Commission for Trade asked the permanent representatives the opinion of their governments about the possible suspension of EBA for Cambodia."
“I think the majority of the 28 governments will not give an opinion on the suspension. And when there is no consensus on trade matters, it is up to the EU Commission for Trade to make a final decision,” the source said.
The source added that the Cambodian government had made known to all EU member states its position on the issues raised by the EU.
Edgar said the formal procedure to withdraw the EBA would take 12 months, either wholly or in part. He said the EU kept the channels of dialogue with Cambodia open.
“This openness to dialogue was reiterated by Commissioner Malmstrom during a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia that took place in Brussels on January 21,” hesaid.
Cambodian government adviser Sok Siphana, who is also a member of the Cambodian delegation that met with Malmstrom last week, declined to comment on the matter, while Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ket Sophann could not be reached.
On Monday, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan reiterated the government’s position in prioritising independence and sovereignty. He said Cambodia would continue being an EU trading partner, even if the EBA is eventually withdrawn.
In the meantime, Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) has written to the EU to reiterate his support for the EBA’s withdrawal.
He claimed that such an action would “defend human rights and restore democracy in Cambodia”.
“On behalf of the Cambodian citizens from all walks of life that the CNRP continues to represent, I would like to confirm to the EU that the response it is considering to address the totalitarian drift in Cambodia – namely a suspension of the EBA programme – is acceptable and appropriate in our eyes,” he said.
He said Cambodians would endure some temporary hardship due to the EBA’s suspension, but claimed they would have a better future for themselves and their children.
However, Rainsy’s letter to the EU was slammed by ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan who said it was written purely to give the impression that Rainsy is an important person who can push the EU to suspend the EBA.
“But actually, whatever the EU decides is not linked with the letter from convict Sam Rainy,” he stressed on Monday.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the current political development in Cambodian may not halt the EBA’s suspension.
“Our prime minister’s refusal to fulfil the EBA’s human rights requirements may well compel those representatives to support the withdrawal of the EBA,” he said.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relation Institute of Royal Academy of Cambodia said the cards were in the EU’s hands. But he said Cambodia should not be deprived of the EBA status.
“If we look at the real situation, it is not so serious that the EU needs to suspend the EBA. Human rights and democracy in Cambodia is still vivid. The political sphere is still normal. If it is suspended, it comes only with an agenda and is not based on facts,” he said.
With regards to Sam Rainsy’s letter to the EU, Phea questioned the nature of a politician who is bent on seeing his own people suffering.
“It is unfortunate that we have a politician who is happy to see his country be sanctioned. I cannot say what kind of person he is,” he said.