Norbert Barthle, the Parliamentary State Secretary at Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, held a meeting with Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Tuesday, saying afterwards that the EU had “positive signs” regarding talks over the process of withdrawing Cambodia’s access to the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) preferential scheme.
“The European Commission is in discussions about it and is waiting for signals from Cambodia and for the opinion of the people. I think they have received some positive signs and had good discussions.”
When asked if he supports the EU’s potential EBA withdrawal, Barthle declined to comment, citing ongoing discussions.
Barthle said only that he will prepare a report on his visit and had seen some positive developments in the Kingdom.
Barthle also met Hun Sen on Monday. Pressed on the outcome of his meetings with the prime minister and Sar Kheng, he said: “I had a good discussion with the prime minister and the interior minister . . ."
“They were fruitful discussions because I could see a [good] process regarding civil society organisations and the current political [situation]. I think it was a good channel for discussion,” he said.
Ministry of Interior deputy spokesman Phat Sophanith said Barthle had raised the issues of land reforms and EBA status in his meeting with Sar Kheng. He said Barthle had said Germany would still be more than willing to lend a hand at Cambodia’s behest.
“The German government is keen to contribute to Cambodia’s development and join hands with the government in extending cooperation between the two countries for the benefit of the Cambodian people,” he said.
Sophanith said Germany hailed the Kingdom’s development and pledged to help the country with further reforms on sub-national governance, land issues and human resources development.
“Cambodia can still avert the withdrawal of EBA trade preferences. Opening political and civic spaces is what matters. We need to rebuild trust and find a solution,” the German Embassy in Phnom Penh said on its Facebook page following Barthle’s Monday meeting with Hun Sen.
In the meeting with the prime minister at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Monday, Barthle said a large number of German investors had expressed interest in investing in the Kingdom.
Barthle also said Germany pledged to offer assistance to Cambodia in the fields of agriculture, solar energy and irrigation systems, and would also help the country tackle traffic congestion, according to Hun Sen’s official Facebook page on Monday.
“We will progress together and strengthen our cooperation,” Barthle said.
In response, the prime minister extended his gratitude to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for congratulating him on his victory in last year’s national elections and for Germany’s “sincere” assessment of Cambodia’s development.
“We’ve only achieved peace and development over the past 20 years. A number of countries including Germany have contributed to this development,” he said.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said the Kingdom still has time to negotiate with the EU to determine the exact conditions the 28-nation bloc wants Cambodia to meet.
“[The EU] should not try to exert pressure on the government by insisting the ball is in Cambodia’s court because the decision actually rests entirely on the EU itself. Maybe the bloc’s conditions and demands are unrealistically high, making it difficult for Cambodia to follow."
“We really want to maintain the preferential EBA status, but national sovereignty and independence in making decisions are also important for a democracy. So please don’t say the ball is in Cambodia’s court – it’s actually in the EU’s,” he said.